A Kind of September

2020-10-01T15:35:06-07:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, politics, quiet, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

On the first day of September, 2020, I turned my head at just the right moment and saw an owl, still as a portrait, on a branch over a teardrop of a pond in the Arboretum. It was noon. The owl was enjoying the shade, and did not care to move, even after a whispering clutch of onlookers gathered to snap photos on their phones. We were mesmerized by the owl’s patient gaze; by its obliviousness to our restless human need to marvel at its composure. It seemed a good omen of a kind of September: when we could try to remember, as in the old song, when life was slow and oh, so mellow. But no: if the owl was an omen, that was not its message. Seems to me a screaming blue-jay would have been a better harbinger of the fires, floods, pestilence, grief, corruption and mud-slinging that lay in store for us, way back on September 1. On the other hand: maybe the owl in the Arboretum was the right omen for the job. Maybe the owl’s message was: Don’t flail. Find your branch, and stay still like me. We’ll ride this month out, together. Easy for me to say. I did not have to evacuate a home that was about to burn or flood. I did not have to rush to the ER, short of breath. I do not anticipate having my vote rejected. In September 2020, my job turned out to be an owl’s job after all: stay still. Shut out the [...]

Emotional Truth: Teaching Memoir in the Time of Trump

2020-02-29T10:33:18-08:00Categories: arts, brain, Creative, creative aging, featured posts, memoir, politics, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sixteen years ago, on Leap Year Day, my mathematically gifted brother left this world. Felled by glioblastoma, he did not have much choice in the timing of his death. But he did have a flair for drama, and it may have pleased him to give a parting nod to the beauty of numbers. The fact is that he died on February 29, 2004. The emotional truth is that he died not on any old dreary winter day, but on a numerically elegant date that only happens every four years. We memoir writers like to talk about seeking, and writing, the emotional truth. It’s an intuitive concept; more what you feel than what you think. Yes, you tell yourself, when you feel you’ve got it right: what I’ve written is what happened, and why it mattered. Or no, you sigh as you stare at the words on the screen: no, I’m not telling it right. I’m holding back. Or telling the wrong story. Or writing around the heart of the matter, instead of into it. Here’s a famous example of emotional truth, from Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast: “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again,” Hemingway wrote, of a woman who walked in to the café where he was writing; a woman he still remembered three decades later. “You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” When I teach memoir [...]

American Infection

2019-11-07T14:50:44-08:00Categories: economics, health & medicine, human rights, immigration, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes we writers search too hard for the perfect metaphor. Sometimes, it’s right under our nose—or, in my case, right under my blue, Velcro-strapped boot. Infection: that’s what Trump is, I thought this morning, as I took my nineteenth of the twenty Amoxicillin tablets we brought home from the pharmacy ten days ago. Trump has infected our vigorous, 241-year-old democracy. And like so many infections, this one is fire-engine red and spreading, unchecked and unmedicated. Meanwhile, the patient is hot with fever one day and shaking with chills the next. Nothing tastes right. Muscles ache. Vaguely flu-like feelings abound. Waves of determination to soldier through—we’ll get over this!—are followed by languorous apathy: let’s just give up. Speaking as one who tried to ignore an infection for several days, I can tell you it is not a strategy that works. After foot surgery on November 6, I assumed the three incisions on my right foot were healing up nicely under all those bandages, just the way they had on my left foot, last May. And they probably were, for the first several days. But then something somehow went wrong along one of those neat lines of stitches. At that point my foot was in a plastic cast, so I couldn’t see it. And for reasons I cannot explain, I chose to believe that feeling like my foot was on fire was probably “normal,” that fever and chills were a “part" of healing, and that I would magically “get over it.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Thank God for antibiotics. [...]

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