Wild Isle

2019-12-09T14:04:05-08:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Wild Isle: what a beautiful pair of words. But where, on earth, might there be a wild isle in a city? Right in my back yard, as it turns out. One hundred and just about nine years ago, the voters of Seattle gave themselves a gift they decided to call Seward Park: an island of wild old-growth forest that juts into Lake Washington from its southwest shore, barely connected to the mainland via a then-slim isthmus. It seemed only right to name this green jewel box after William Seward, best known for negotiating the 1867 purchase of Alaska, a territory that Seattleites were very fond of, back in 1911, because of the money that had poured into the city as gold prospectors from all over the world stopped to gear up before sailing from Seattle to the Klondike by way of Alaska. On their way home, the miners stopped through again, and spent more money. At last, Seattle could afford the wild isle at the southern end of the stunning chain of parks and boulevards laid out by the famed Olmsted brothers of New York. And now our Wild Isle has its own beautiful book.  Published by the Friends of Seward Park under the painstaking direction of writer/editor Paul Talbert and photo editor/designer Karen O’Brien, Wild Isle in the City is full of “tales from Seward Park’s First 100 years,” as the subtitle promises. But it goes back much, much further, all the way back to the Ice Age geology that shaped our city; the abundance [...]

This Large Light

2019-11-07T14:46:38-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, gun control, human rights, politics, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

Driving west up Union, we could see taillights stretching ahead in a long, slow column. We crossed 23rd Avenue, turned onto a side street and parked. As we walked uphill towards Seattle’s storied Temple de Hirsch Sinai, my husband and I fell in step with a few others, then a few dozen. And then suddenly we were part of a stream of a few thousand, or more. Volunteers directed us to the ends of the long lines that circled the temple block in every direction. The quiet was palpable. The announcement soon went out that the synagogue, which holds 2,000 people, was full. Police blocked off the street in front and encouraged the hundreds of us who couldn’t get in to gather outside. Loudspeakers were set up. Someone began to strum a guitar and lead us in song. I stood behind a tall man in a fedora with a voice like a deep, clear bell and tried to pick up a few of the Hebrew words. One of the rabbis came out and spoke to us. He told us God’s tears were mixing with ours, as we stood together in remembrance of the eleven people murdered two days ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He talked of planting a new Tree of Life, where love can—no, must, he said—have the last word. I thought of a film I saw this weekend, at the Friday Harbor Film Festival, that was all about how trees communicate with each other, underground; how the roots of wholly [...]

Love and Sacrifice

2019-11-07T14:48:04-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, travel, Uncategorized, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

On the day that students and the people who love them marched in cities and towns around the world, my husband and I walked the wide boulevards of Chichén Itzá. If our trip to Mexico had not been planned so far in advance, we too would have been marching in our hometown. Instead, heat-dazed, we gazed at the ruins of the ancient city that has long been known as a site of copious human sacrifice.   The Mayans, and the Toltecs who conquered them, believed that the gods were hungry for blood, in particular the blood of fresh human hearts. When the divine appetite for blood was sated, the sun would rise and the crops would thrive. Legend has it that the gods preferred the hearts of young warriors. That only the hearts of the strongest, healthiest, most beautiful young people would please the gods’ delicate palates. Hundreds of years from now, will tourists visit the ruins of American schools and shake their heads in horror? Will they ask why we, a once-advanced civilization, were willing to sacrifice our young because we believed—what, exactly? That it was a sacred right to own the deadliest of weapons? At least the Mayans and the Toltecs thought they were making the sun rise.          As I write, Passover has begun and Easter is tomorrow. I’m back in Seattle now, but I started this holy week in Valladolid, Mexico, a quiet, colonial city near Chichén Itzá. On Palm Sunday, I attend 9 o’clock mass at the Templo de San Bernardino, [...]

Stay Hungry

2019-11-07T15:31:01-08:00Categories: economics, education, faith and doubt, feminism, human rights, immigration, journalism, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , |

2016 was a hungry, hungry year. Month after month, we hungered for justice and peace and hope, and we just kept getting hungrier. We thought November 8 might take the edge off; might give us a little encouraging broth for the journey. But no. Now we’re more famished than ever. And it’s very easy to feel like the best solution might be to simply curl up in a fetal position and hoard what little energy we have left. But we can’t, can we? We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors down the street and around the world, to stay hungry. To feel that driving bite in the gut, that ache, that howling growl that demands attention. We are going to be offered pablum and junk food and we’ll be tempted to take it. We’ll be told to eat this, calm down, stop your bellyaching. But we can’t. We’ve got to stay hungry. Yes, 2016 feels like the Worst Year Ever. But as one friend brooded on Facebook, what on earth makes us think 2017 is going to better? Lest you think my only goal here is to write the most depressing post in Restless Nest history, I offer this morsel of optimism. Here’s what could be better about 2017, if we all stay hungry: this could be the year that we all do more than we ever have to make the world a better place. Instead of giving money to presidential candidates, we can give it to the people who are in the trenches, [...]

#Enough

2019-11-07T15:35:00-08:00Categories: human rights, politics, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

          You know how it is. You don’t want to feel numb. You know that numbness is just pain postponed. Novocained. You know that, in order to get through this, you’ve got to feel. And so you go about your day. You get in the car. You turn on the radio. Some of the speakers are inspiring, Donald Trump is horrible, but none of them are quite breaking through your numbed skin. It’s the victims and those who grieve them, of course, who finally do break through. It’s the young man talking about frantically texting his 20-year-old best friend. It’s the front-page grid of faces: so many beautiful young people, smiling, being silly, being their young selves. It’s the story that writer Dan Savage told on the radio, choking up as he told it, of Brenda Marquez McCool, a single mother of 11 and cancer survivor, who died because she stood between the Orlando killer and her son Isaiah. At 2 in the morning at a gay nightclub, she saved the life of her son: as Savage pointed out, a previous generation would have found it stunning that she was even there, with her gay son, his adult life just beginning and hers beginning again after cancer. Or so they had hoped. And then it was the two Sandy Hook parents on the radio, a mom and a dad, each of whom lost a child in the Newtown, CT school massacre on December 14, 2012. For more than three years, Nicole Hockley, who lost her son [...]

Restless Reinvention

2019-11-07T15:35:31-08:00Categories: arts, faith and doubt, film, midlife, travel, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

News Flash: The Restless Nest has been awarded an honorable mention in the “Blogs under 100,000 unique visitors” category of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 competition!  “Oh, to be wracked by success!” director Terence Davies exclaimed, hitting wracked loudly and hard with his gentle Liverpool lilt. He was imitating actor Cynthia Nixon, who plays Emily Dickinson in his new film A Quiet Passion, as he explained to us that—much as he loves planning every painstaking detail of his movies in advance—he delights in moments of surprise. Nixon’s emphatic reading of Dickinson’s line was not what he had imagined. But then, success, whether or not one is wracked by it, is often not at all what we imagine. True for nineteenth century poets, true for 21st century actors and directors. True for all of us.      Davies’ appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, following a screening of his 1992 film, The Long Day Closes, was a highlight of my recent trip to New York. I had seen his Distant Voices, Still Lives some years ago and was haunted by his depiction of his Liverpool childhood, of which his violent father was the volatile heart. Davies makes movies like an old Dutch master paints. He loves what he calls “texture:” getting the faded, autumnal colors of the clothing, wallpaper and furniture of his 1950s working-class neighborhood just right; spending a full minute of screen time gazing at one patterned ochre rug, because that’s what children do: they stare at the patterns and [...]

Mangers Everywhere

2019-11-11T09:15:30-08:00Categories: arts, economics, faith and doubt, film, human rights, urban life|Tags: , , , , |

Two days shy of the darkest day of the year, silhouetted against a rainy twilight sky, I watched a young woman emerge from a tent, tugging a stroller behind her. A young man followed. They turned the stroller around and bumped it down a muddy knoll, lifting it over a ditch and onto the sidewalk. Their tent, pitched next to Interstate 5 at the 50th Street exit in Seattle’s University District, flapped behind them, sagging under the relentless rain, leaning half-heartedly against the wind, ready to cave in to the next good gust. As we waited for the light to change, all I could see of the baby in the stroller, across the two lanes of traffic that stood between us, was that at least she or he was covered with a blanket. My husband and I were on our way to see the latest movie version of Macbeth. The very first shot in the movie is of a dead baby. And the weather in medieval Scotland, as seen on screen, was only slightly worse than the weather outside the theater in mid-winter Seattle. I shivered at the thought of living in such brutal conditions: no heat, no light, mud everywhere. But that is exactly how the young couple I’d seen coming out of their tent were living. Right here in my own high-tech hometown. Right now, in 2015. As we drove home, we took in the sparkling lights of all the construction cranes in South Lake Union and downtown. It’s as if they’re competing this [...]

Father Solstice

2019-11-07T15:38:41-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, human rights, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 I was in it for the Beaconettes. What’s not to love about a holiday choir decked in sky-high beehive hairdos festooned with strings of lights? So I braved the bone-chilling Seattle December rain and headed for the annual tree-lighting at our neighborhood’s new gathering spot, a mini-park called the Columbia City Gateway. My husband was waiting for me, hot chocolate in hand. Aahhh. We tried to figure out where the tree was. Turns out it was a telephone pole. This would be a pole lighting. But that’s OK—it’s Columbia City, where even a pole lighting in a downpour can somehow still promise to be festive. There were some mercifully short introductory remarks, and then the night’s celebrity guest was introduced: Father Christmas himself, or, as the announcer added, “Father Solstice, if you prefer.” And what a magnificent Father Christmas/Solstice he was: fur-crowned, green-robed, cascading white beard and hair. I was kicking myself for not having added one more layer to my winter-rain getup and feeling anxious to see the Beaconettes before I crossed over into hypothermia. My husband saw me shivering and put his arms around me. Then Father Solstice stepped up to the microphone, wrapping us all in his gentle yet commanding presence: the kind of presence that long years of addressing such crowds can give a man, especially one with mythical tendencies. I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what I remember of what Father Solstice said: “I won’t talk long, I promise. I know you’re wet and cold. But I just want to remind [...]

Restless Night

2019-11-07T15:40:26-08:00Categories: arts, film, memoir, midlife, parenting, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

There was a solemn three-year-old firefighter and a fierce four-year-old Batman. There were many princesses, one wearing a football helmet. There were moms dressed as witches and one dad in a hardhat carrying a cardboard model of Bertha, Seattle’s doomed supersized tunnel driller. There were some very sweet baby bumblebees. It was Halloween night in Columbia City, and my husband and I were there for the show. We left a basket of candy on our front porch with a sign: “Happy Halloween! Take a few and leave some for your neighbors.” We’ll never know whether the trick or treaters did that, or whether one or a few them could not resist the temptation to empty the entire basket into their bags. What we did know is that we were too restless, this year, to sit home and wait for the doorbell to ring. So there we were, a dozen blocks away in our neighborhood’s hopping, decked-out business district, watching what has become a wildly popular south Seattle ritual: trick or treating at the bars, restaurants, galleries and stores in rustic, red-brick Columbia City. We ordered beers at Lottie’s and stood outside, protected from the rain by the awning. We complimented the trick or treaters on their costumes and chatted with their parents. Rus took a few photos to send our children, currently living far away in Colorado and New York and busy at that hour dressing up for their respective Halloween parties. After dinner at Tutta Bella, we raced up to Taproot Theatre in Greenwood to [...]

Welcome to Seattle

2019-11-07T16:02:45-08:00Categories: arts, hiking, memoir, midlife, travel, urban life|Tags: , , , |

Here’s a sad, sad thought: your cherished friend is visiting Seattle from across the country and you find out she’s drinking bad hotel coffee at her downtown hotel. You know the stuff: those packets that you stick in the toddler-sized coffeemaker, because you can’t bear to spend ten dollars on a cup from room service OR throw a coat over your pajamas and venture out for a to-go cup from the nearest café. When I heard the news, I felt personally embarrassed on behalf of my hometown. Vicky and I met forty years ago this month, when Wellesley College assigned us to live in the same room. She was from Ohio. I was from Seattle. We were both 17, on financial aid and not from New York or New England, which must be why Wellesley College matched us up. Vicky remembers that I drew little cartoon evergreen trees on the whiteboard outside our dorm room because I was so homesick. She remembers that I brewed my own coffee, purchased at the gourmet store in town. I remember that no one knew anything about Seattle, except for what they’d seen on Here Come the Brides, the TV show responsible for the song, “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen.” (“—are in Seattle?” Who wrote that?) Over the many years since college, Vicky has been in Seattle briefly a few times. But on this visit, she finally had the leisure to look around a bit, while her husband attended a conference. I know Vicky to be an intrepid walker, [...]

Park Dining

2019-11-07T16:05:58-08:00Categories: arts, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , |

I had lunch today at “Dog in the Park,” one of the best outdoor dining establishments in Seattle. One window, one grill, and a cluster of umbrella-shaded picnic tables on prime downtown turf: the east side of Westlake Park. From my excellent table, I had a ringside view of the children’s play area, the waterfall wall and the busy intersection of Fourth and Pine. My chicken, feta and spinach dog with peppers and onions was grilled to perfection. It cost me five dollars plus tip. If you’re after traditional pork or beef dogs, they have those too. Veggie, vegan? Naturally. It may be a one-item menu, but “Dog in the Park” has a dog for everyone. But this is not a restaurant review. This is a park story. Westlake Park is not just a busy downtown crossroads. It is, in fact, a city park. It has its own Seattle Park District web page, which lists its size as 0.1 acres. It also has its own Office of Arts & Culture web page, on which you can learn all about artist Robert Maki’s 1988 design for Westlake, which features paving stones in a Salish basket-weave pattern, a Roman-inspired stone archway and a 64-foot, double wall of water that you can walk through on a steel walkway. Sitting in the park, with a tasty grilled hot dog, is much better than reading about it. As I ate, I watched a few kids plinking on a pink piano, one of the “Pianos in the Parks” that have popped up [...]

Park Dreaming

2019-11-07T16:06:37-08:00Categories: fitness, hiking, nature, quiet, Uncategorized, urban life|Tags: , |

I want to write about parks. Seattle voters, you know we’ve got a big decision to make. But here’s the problem: there are these snapshots in my head that keep getting in the way. A woman standing in front of her wildfire-torched home in Pateros, Washington. A funeral for a child in Gaza. Bodies lying in a wheat field in Ukraine. The headlines this week, and the pictures that go with them, have been brutal. I want to write about parks. But it seems—disrespectful. I want to write about how parks saved my mental health more than once. About what a safe haven they’ve always been for me. I want to remember the Arboretum, where I could spend half a day with a pencil and notebook. I want to shout out the old-growth trees and cool summer waters of Seward Park, my refuge for 24 years. I want to remember the climbing tree in the playfield up the hill from my childhood home, where I could hide out for a while when being one of six kids in the house just got too cramped. But even though I really, really want Seattle voters to pass the measure on the August primary ballot which will create stable funding at last for our city parks, it just seems so indulgent to write about while the largest recorded wildfire in our state’s history blazes on. While both sides in Gaza report their deadliest day. While families in the Netherlands and Malaysia and a dozen other countries mourn the violent [...]

The Real Portlandia

2019-11-07T16:07:00-08:00Categories: travel, urban life|Tags: , , , , |

Imagine: you are in the middle of downtown, in a major American city, and you walk right into a clean, pleasant public bathroom. No strings attached: you don’t have to buy a coffee or stride purposefully past a store clerk or a hotel concierge or a librarian. This restroom is there expressly for you. You, the visitor. In fact, it is in a place called the “Welcome Center,” which also features racks of brochures and maps and friendly volunteers who will answer any questions you might have. Hot day? Water bottle empty? They’ll point you to the drinking fountain where you can fill it. I know what you’re thinking: I really am imagining this. There’s no such place. But you know what? There is, and it’s closer than you think. One hundred seventy three miles south of Seattle, there exists a strange parallel universe called Portland, a cityscape that resembles ours, only everything is easier. The Welcome Center is located in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, right in the heart of town, right where tourists can find it. “Why can’t we have one of these in Seattle?” I thought, as I walked in, two minutes after stepping off the many-branched MAX light rail, which had just whisked us downtown from my nephew’s outlying neighborhood. I know: Seattle’s working on it. I live on our Link light rail line, and I love it. I just wish it were a real network, like the MAX, instead of one lonely line. Light rail is expensive and it takes a long [...]

Freedom Riders

2019-11-13T16:06:23-08:00Categories: fitness, midlife, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , |

“Freedom,” such a lovely word, is about to get its annual binge on. It will be overused, misused, badly used and, occasionally, poignantly or profoundly used. Why even try to compete? So I’m keeping my contribution simple. You ready? Freedom is a bicycle. Stay with me here. Ride with me. I live in a newly rebuilt neighborhood where many of my neighbors are African immigrants. Our home overlooks a small central park built around two enormous red oak trees. On summer afternoons, it is usually full of children. One recent afternoon, I sat at my desk, trying and failing to focus on my work while I watched the park fill with kids. They were headed towards a shining sea of bicycles parked under a big blue canopy down at the other end. It was the annual bike fair and giveaway sponsored by Bikeworks, one of the most high-energy, generous nonprofits in Seattle. One by one, thirty children were fitted with a new helmet, passed a safety test, and sped down the sidewalk on a bright new refurbished used bike. One by one, I watched them ride right towards me, smiles filling their faces. Freedom is a bicycle, I’m telling you. When you get on a bike, your feet kiss the ground goodbye. Pedaling uphill may make you sweat, but coasting is flying. One minute, you’re standing in the park; the next, you’re flying, and it’s not magic, it’s your own muscles turning those wheels and making it happen. I learned to ride a bike late. I [...]

Volunteer Janitor

2019-11-11T09:20:38-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, human rights, midlife, urban life, work|Tags: , , |

“I bet those nice ladies think I’m the new janitor,” I thought, as I jogged past them down the basement stairs of our 80-year-old church, carrying a caddy full of cleaning supplies. “I guess I’m OK with that.” But for a second or two, I wasn’t OK. I had a momentary taste of how it might feel to be the janitor, and I didn’t like it. I was fine with cleaning toilets as a volunteer. Our church had just finished a week of hosting six homeless women and their children in our basement and I was helping with cleanup. Lucky me, to have access to such an easy way to feel like I’d done something Good with a capital G. An hour in rubber gloves, and then I could get back to my real life of working at a desk, where I may think I’m scraping by financially but I know I make more than the church janitor. Custodian. Cleaner. Am I showing my age, using the word “janitor?” And then there are the homeless moms and kids, packing up their stuff every week and moving on to another church. This is what we call a “safety net” in America: networks of volunteers who put up tents in church basements and serve hot dinners and help with homework and try to make a desperate situation bearable. I don’t have a natural facility for this kind of volunteering, or any kind, really. I did not grow up in a volunteering kind of family. I had to learn [...]

Dementia-friendly World

2019-11-14T12:00:41-08:00Categories: brain, dementia, health & medicine, midlife, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

 For a few years after she was diagnosed, my mother said the words, “I have Alzheimer’s disease” out loud, in public and often. She was in her mid-sixties, looked young and fit, spoke like the retired English teacher she was. She understood that the clerk in the grocery store or the waiter in the restaurant would be more patient with her if they knew why it was taking her so long to find her credit card or sign her name. So she told them. She spread those little learning moments wherever she went. I was the one who couldn’t get used to it. (I wrote a whole book about not getting used to it.) The looks we got in return—surprise, pity, shock—made me squirm. But later, when I had to say it for her because she no longer could, I remembered those early-stage days with a sort of wistful nostalgia. My indomitable mother looked the world in the eye and asked not for pity but for patience. And you know what? When you ask for patience, you often get it. My mother went public because it made sense. She was being her practical, problem-solving self. She probably would have scoffed at the notion that she was a pioneer; helping to build what the Alzheimer’s Association calls a “dementia-friendly community.” And because I am now as old as she was—57—when she began to wonder if something might be wrong with her brain, I have to wonder if I would be so brave. No, I don’t wonder. I [...]

Happy Mother’s Day

2019-11-13T16:18:03-08:00Categories: dementia, family, memoir, midlife, parenting, urban life|Tags: , , |

 Once upon a time in Seattle, a little girl went downtown with her mother and baby sister and had a grand adventure. They may have shopped at Frederick & Nelson. They could have sipped milkshakes in the Paul Bunyan Room. But the excitement meter started spinning like crazy when the car broke down. I was that little girl. What I remember is this: the pale green Pontiac thudded to a halt. Mom twisted the keys and the steering wheel. The car wheezed weakly—and then went silent. Mom sighed, got out, opened the back door, scooped up baby Lisa from her car bed and motioned for me to slide across the vast back seat. “What are we doing?” I asked, as I scrambled down to the sidewalk. “Are we going to visit this castle?” We were standing in front of a brick building with a grassy courtyard and white columns flanking the oversized front door. Mom laughed. “That’s not a castle, honey. That’s an apartment building. And look—here’s a bus stop right in front of it! Are you ready for your very first bus ride?” Was I ever. This was a trip downtown I would never forget! And I didn’t. As I wrote in my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, “In my three-year-old mind, it was the ideal moment: the complete safety of Mom; the thrilling adventure of the bus. Our mother was the opposite of fear, the opposite of worry, the handler of everything.” It’s that castle-like apartment building that kept this scrap of memory alive for me. [...]

Brain on Fire

2014-03-19T09:57:48-07:00Categories: brain, education, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , |

“What does this mean—‘brain on fire?’”  Munira pointed to the words on the page. We were reading a passage about Helen Keller in her fourth-grade homework packet. The author was describing how Keller’s brain was suddenly “on fire” after the legendary breakthrough moment when she spelled the word “water” in her teacher Anne Sullivan’s hand; how Helen ran from object to object, demanding names, learning at least 30 words that very day. I did my best to explain “brain on fire,” but found myself reaching for equally odd English sayings, about lightbulbs turning on or “Aha!” moments or “getting it.” Munira got it, and we read on. Like many of the Somali students I tutor in the after-school program in my neighborhood, her English is fluent but youthful and conversational. Phrases that date back a few decades, or several, stick out like a—well, like a sore thumb. I remember one afternoon last year when I had to explain the title of a reading passage called “America’s Favorite Pastime” to a student even younger than Munira: let’s just say, I’m no Anne Sullivan. And I’m not. I am not setting brains on fire on a regular basis. But I keep showing up, because I have this naïve belief in the power of reading. Once a child is able to open a book and read, all on her own, it’s as if she possesses a magic power, a golden key to everything, that no one can take away. But just as Anne Sullivan could not persuade Helen Keller [...]

Swimming

2014-02-06T10:06:56-08:00Categories: human rights, memoir, parenting, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

I swam and swam, longer and further than I thought I would, turning my face to the sun each time I flipped over for some backstroke. Then I sat in a hot tub and worked the jets over my tight calves, shoulders, back, feet. From there I repaired to the sauna, lay back and went from pleasantly warm to luxuriously hot. It was the tail end of January. Noon on a Friday. I wasn’t on vacation. I was at the sparkling new Rainier Beach pool in the middle of southeast Seattle. For five dollars and 25 cents, I swam, soaked and sweated away my cares and woes, along with a rainbow coalition of fellow south Seattleites. When I arrived, the locker room was swarming with toddlers and moms who had just finishing swim lessons. When I left, the seniors were on their way in, slow and graceful, like tortoises who’ve lived for decades on a beach the rest of us just discovered. “You just turned 68? You’re a baby. I’m 87!” one of them said to another. “87?” said the 68-year-old. “That’s a blessing, to be 87. That’s a blessing!” “It sure is,” said the 87-year-old, as she moved, one step at a time, behind her walker. “It sure is.” I had not been to the Rainier Beach Pool for many years, not since long before it was torn down and rebuilt. I remember one summer, taking my children there for swimming lessons; walking in was like entering a steamy, mildewed concrete bunker. What a transformation! [...]

Race: a work-in-progress

2014-01-15T11:30:08-08:00Categories: economics, family, human rights, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

Race, as a concept, is hardly a work-in-progress in the construction sense of the phrase. On the contrary: the concept of race is in what you might call a state of rapid DE-construction. Debunking, Demythification, De-pseudo-science-ification. What I’m working on is copping to how little I understand, how little I have ever understood, about white privilege and the way it has shaped my life. If you missed the Pacific Science Center’s recent exhibition called RACE: Are We So Different?, make sure to visit the exhibition’s provocative website. A project of the American Anthropological Association, RACE: Are We So Different? has traveled, or will travel, to more than 30 venues in the United States. That adds up to a lot of conversations about a subject none of us are very good at talking about. If, like me, you’re white and over 50, or even 40, you probably didn’t grow up talking about white privilege. It was just there, so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives as to be invisible. To us. If you are not white, you might have had “aha!” moments of a very different kind as you walked through the show. Maybe you nodded your head in recognition, anger, sadness. Maybe you looked around at all the white visitors and thought: at least they’re learning a little about my reality. Here’s my easy example of how white privilege works: so easy it embarrasses me. When I travel, I’m always on a budget, but I have perfected the art of strolling into a five-star [...]

Filters

2013-05-07T17:07:37-07:00Categories: brain, midlife, Seattle, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , |

My email spam blocker is having filtration problems. So am I. Just as the diet, mortgage, dating, credit report, e-cig and language learning messages flow nonstop to my laptop, so does every conceivable distraction flow into my brain. I want to get some work done, I really do. But then I look out the open window and there’s that purple car with the green trim and jacked up wheels, circling the block again. And in the park across the street, there are the tween-age boys playing pickup basketball, while the younger boys watch longingly. Moms with strollers and cellphones and dogs walk by like little mobile juggling acts. Tiny girls in hijab run toward the swings. Maybe I should not try to work near an open window on a spring day. There are distractions inside, too: we all know what a dangerous Pandora’s box a laptop or a smartphone is. But what I don’t know is this: why am I sometimes better at filtering and focusing and other times, I’m just not? Often, I think it’s a problem of accumulated experience. I know that sounds like a too-sly way of saying “age,” but stay with me. Because what I mean is this: I think my filtering problem is due to a ridiculous over-abundance, a lifetime buildup, of past references for all the stimuli outside the window or on the screen or wherever my busy brain might be. I hear kids playing ball and my mind reels back to growing up near another neighborhood park, in another [...]

Boston

2013-04-22T11:55:01-07:00Categories: arts, education, politics, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , |

One September day, when I was still a child but thought I was not, off I flew to Boston. My checked bags included a shiny trunk in a retro black and white pattern and a sky blue Skyway suitcase. I wore a new plaid blouse, brown corduroys and a brown hooded sweater. I was 17 and I didn’t look a day older. Boston received me the way Boston does: with a bit of a yawn. Oh, here she comes; yet another wide-eyed rube from the Wild West come east to get some schooling. Sorry, sweetheart, but you’re a dime a dozen in this town. Never mind: have some chowder. Have a corn muffin. You want your coffee regular? Which in Boston, of course, means with cream and sugar. I didn’t care, because I knew my real life was beginning. In the mayhem of this past week, in our global obsession with Boston, with the bombs at the marathon finish line and who put them there and why; in our grief for the dead and injured, one of President Obama’s finest moments slipped under the news radar. On Thursday, hours before the terror and drama of the manhunt began, before we knew anything about two brothers with roots in Chechnya, the people of Boston gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to mourn. It was an interfaith service featuring many eloquent speakers. I happened to catch most of it on the radio. But it was our president who made me cry, because he reminded me what [...]

Homework

2013-04-16T14:03:23-07:00Categories: education, immigration, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

It’s almost 5:30. Time to walk the one block from my front door to the neighborhood center where I volunteer once a week as a homework tutor for Horn of Africa Services, a nonprofit serving Seattle’s East African community. I wonder what challenges await me today. Will I find myself trying to explain what a “bale of hay” is? Corral the attention of a first-grader who is convinced the police car in the alley might be here for someone he knows? Search for scissors and a glue stick for a “word-sorting” homework assignment that involves pasting postage-sized pictures of words with similar endings in the correct columns? The word-sort worksheet makes me wonder if the teacher who assigned it really enjoys the mental picture of parents and other homework helpers, like me, down on our knees gathering up flyaway scraps of homework confetti. (I don’t remember my own children having to use glue to do homework very often, though there was that one multi-day, sweat-and-tear-stained project that called for recreating Fort Vancouver out of popsicle sticks.) At a training for volunteers, Program Director Dereje Zewdie began by defining culture as, quote, “what makes you a stranger when you’re away from home.” Walking to the tutoring center, I’m only a few hundred yards from where I now live. A mere ten miles from the house where I grew up. I don’t think about My Culture because I live in it. It is omnipresent; as invisible as air. But all that changes when I open the door and [...]

Meaning: Searching and/or Finding

2013-03-19T13:43:57-07:00Categories: arts, education, faith and doubt, midlife, quiet, Seattle, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Trying to fill a room in Seattle is a fickle business. On the first day of 2013 that felt like spring was not just a dream some of us had, who ever would’ve guessed that 25 hundred Seattle souls would willingly converge for a collection of lectures called the Search for Meaning Book Festival? And this was a free event: advance registration encouraged, but no fifty dollar commitment. No reason why you couldn’t just say, “Are you kidding? I’m going to Golden Gardens!” after you pulled back the curtains on a morning flood of daffodil-yellow sunlight. Now in its fifth year, the Search for Meaning Book Festival just keeps growing. It is hosted by Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, but the authors and speakers come from every religious tradition, including none-of-the-above. This year’s keynotes were a conversation between authors Sherman Alexie and Michael Chabon in the morning and a riveting talk by Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan in the afternoon. Before and after the keynotes were seminars, of which we attendees had to choose three or four out of nearly four dozen. Topics ranged from searching for meaning in suffering to the ethics of sustainable seafood. Highlights for me were Port Townsend poet Holly Hughes’ session on contemplation and creativity and Stranger Genius Award-winner Lesley Hazleton’s talk on the life of Muhammad. But I digress. Back to the weather. Next time you’re on Capitol Hill, stroll a few blocks south and you’ll find yourself in a little green oasis: the Seattle University campus. Not such [...]

Foiled Again

2013-03-05T17:17:08-08:00Categories: economics, midlife, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , , , |

Wow, there was a lot of gray hair at the Oscars this year. Kidding! Sure, George Clooney’s silver head was in every other cutaway shot. And French best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva looked fabulously un-dyed on this, her 86th birthday. But even Jane Fonda and Shirley Bassey (75 and 76 respectively), do not dare bare their true hair. Barbra Streisand (70), Meryl Streep (63)—no way. I thought of them all as I sat in a salon chair, 50 or so squares of foil shooting out from my head, flipping through More magazine. Looking like an extra in a low-budget sci-fi film. Feeling morally deficient. I really want to be the kind of woman who can own the gray: Emmy Lou Harris. Jamie Lee Curtis. But I’m not. I’m just not. Not yet. I tried. I stopped coloring my hair for about two years. I thought I was doing OK with the gradually emerging, real, salt-n-pepper me, until I saw a photo in which I resembled my grandmother. Not my stylish Seattle grandma: no, I resembled my dear, frumpy Finnish-American grandma, whose hair was the same steely gray I now saw on my own head. And what is so wrong with that, you might ask? What’s wrong is that I often work with people 10, 20, even 30 years younger than I am, and I can’t yet afford to frighten them away by resembling their grandmothers. I literally can’t afford it: in the often arbitrary world of self-employed creative professionals, the wrong first impression could cost you [...]