Seeking Shade

2019-11-07T14:37:29-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, human rights, immigration, nature, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

There is a toxic, orange glare emanating from the White House. We’ve got to seek shade wherever we can. As I hopscotched from one patch of shade to the next during our most recent heat wave, feeling grateful for Seattle’s generous canopy of trees, I thought: this is what we’re all doing now. Seeking shade from that poisonous glare. It’s a matter of spiritual and psychological survival. My own shade-seeking, Summer of 2018 mantra is this: “I am NOT going to let Donald Trump prevent me from writing my book.” Easier said than done, in the summer of 2018. But I’m doing it: I’m writing; I’m fitting in an hour or two a day, more when I can, less when work takes precedence or it’s time for a hiking break. Writers, here’s my advice: close your email and your browser. Silence your phone. Set a timer for an hour. Checking your email, texts and news once an hour is enough. My own recent favorite reads And readers: show yourself some kindness. Tear your bleary eyes away from the news alerts and the OpEds and read a novel or a memoir or a short story or a non-political essay. Feel your breathing change and your shoulders relax as you settle in. Parents and grandparents: read stories to your kids. The book I am writing is about faith and doubt: the fervent faith of my youth, the twenty-year break I took from religion, the meaning I’ve found in accepting that doubt is where my faith now [...]

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 [...]

The Un-cool Writers’ Club

2019-11-07T15:49:19-08:00Categories: brain, dementia, faith and doubt, family, film, midlife, work|Tags: , , , |

 If you aspire to be a cool writer, then whatever you do, don’t hang out with me. I am your worst nightmare. Here’s why: for starters, I am old, so old I may as well tell you how old. 58. Fifty-eight! This would be acceptable if I had published many volumes by now. But no: I just published my very first book. And my book is a memoir. This might be acceptable if I was a recovering addict or had escaped the Taliban. But no: I am the daughter of a beautiful, smart woman who drew an unlucky card called younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and that is what I wrote about. Worse, my current work-in-progress is also a memoir, on an equally unhip topic: faith and doubt. There’s more. I did not get my Master of Fine Arts degree until I was 53: enough said. And I have another career, which confuses people. It’s a reasonably cool career—documentary filmmaking—but alas, I’ve never had a film at Sundance (which would vault me right into the category of Permanently Cool). And I make films with my husband, which is way less cool than if I were doing it solo. Speaking of my husband: we’ve been married 27 years. Yikes! Just call us Ward and June! And then there’s my lifetime issue of not wanting to be mean. In fact, right now, writing this, I’m uncomfortable with the whiff of snarkiness I detect; the implication that I don’t like cool writers, because I do. I like many cool writers. But [...]

Dateline Máncora

2019-11-07T15:55:12-08:00Categories: family, midlife, quiet, Seattle, travel|Tags: , , , , , |

There are only so many ways to describe a beautiful beach. The true beauty of it, for writers and readers, is the way it allows your mind to travel lightly, far and wide, or to venture deeply and with great absorption, as you wish or as you dare, always returning to the anchor of the beauty before you. The surprise of it, on this trip, is that our beach is in Peru. Peru is the Inca Trail, the glorious Andes, sprawling, sleepless Lima. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. From where I’m sitting now in Máncora, on the north coast, the Amazon basin is not far away. Nor are the snowy high sierras. But this coastal landscape is a rugged desert edged by a strip of long, curving bays and beaches. We came to Máncora because it is a town my great-uncle and his family lived in for a year in the 1950s. It was a dramatic change from their elegant Lima home. My cousin Andy remembers Máncora as an 11-year-old’s backwater paradise, where he played in the dusty hills and on the sublime beach. We are in Peru to wrap up filming on our documentary, Zona Intangible, which was inspired by my great-uncle, who lived here for two decades and was a pioneer of Peru’s fishmeal industry. The film won’t be all about fishmeal or all about my uncle; it will, mostly, tell the story of a handmade city outside Lima where a clinic on a dusty back [...]

August

2019-11-07T16:04:46-08:00Categories: dementia, midlife, travel|Tags: , , , |

 August is a misunderstood month. “Nothing gets done in August,” people say. “Everyone’s on vacation.” But who is everyone, and what exactly does vacation mean? Below this surface fiction of hot, languid days, college freshmen pack up and get ready to step out of the only life they’ve ever known and into a new one they can’t quite imagine yet. Young couples get married. Babies conceived on cold winter nights are born on warm summer mornings. Teachers write lesson plans. Schoolkids—well, they’re probably still in happy denial, though a few might secretly look forward to being a whole year older than last year. And some of us have books coming out, not long after Labor Day. Call me a late bloomer, because I am, but publishing my first book this fall feels in many ways just as scary as going off to college. I was an early-bloomer then. I left home for college at seventeen. And all through that long-ago August, a stranger stood in my bedroom, reminding me that I was about to step off a cliff. The stranger was a suitcase. I’d never owned one. Never needed one. But here it was, my own classic, rectangular, sky-blue Skyway, a high school graduation gift from my grandparents: quietly waiting for me to fill it. Quietly reminding me, every day, that the Skyway and I would soon be flying east into a different universe called college. A universe I longed to love but didn’t know yet if I would. Didn’t know yet that there would be [...]

My Writing Process Blog Tour

2019-11-13T16:23:33-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, reading|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

I’ve been tagged in the My Writing Process Blog Tour by Kim Brown, editor of the wonderful Minerva Rising literary journal. Check out what Kim’s been up to at http://www.the-confident-writer.net. This blog is a relay that involves answering four specific questions and then naming the authors who will follow. So here we go: What am I working on?? I am working on the first draft of my second memoir. (My first, Her Beautiful Brain, will be published this September by She Writes Press.) The working title for this book is The Observant Doubter. It’s about my own checkered history of faith and doubt. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Memoir is a slippery, shape-shifting sort of a genre, so this is a difficult question to answer. For me, memoir is not autobiography but more like extended essay writing, a way to explore what have become (like it or not) the enduring themes of my life. And I do mean “explore.” What I love about writing memoir are the new insights that come as you write about events in your life that you might have thought you already understood in every possible way. The memoir writers I admire include Anne Lamott, Elizabeth McCracken and Michael Klein. What I love about their work is that it asks questions. It meanders. It doesn’t follow a straight chronological line. Why do I write what I do? My first book was driven by a need to honor my mother’s life and to articulate the uniquely cruel fate [...]

Night of the Shutdown

2013-10-01T11:27:21-07:00Categories: education, politics|Tags: , , , , , , |

On the night the Republicans shut down the government, I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College: “Intro to Memoir Writing,” a non-credit class offered through Central’s lively Continuing Education program. While my students and I tackled the mysterious mechanics of writing about our lives, other students and other teachers labored in classrooms all around us: French, across the hall; English as a Second Language, a few doors down; history and sociology around the corner. While Congress wasted the country’s time, we devoured time hungrily and with purpose: teaching, listening, learning from each other. While House Speaker John Boehner did his best to dismantle the democratic process, we were building—in our cases, stories, built one word at a time with sweat, tears, love and hard labor. At some point earlier in their careers, surely Boehner and his colleagues must have wanted to build, rather than tear down. Maybe not: maybe the Republican party has always been dedicated to ending government as we know it. Government, as we were taught in classrooms long ago, in which bills are drafted, debated, rewritten, passed, signed and then become the law of the land. Law: not a target for blackmail and subversion, but law. It cheers me to think of all the learning going on in community college classrooms, not only on Monday, September 30, but on any given evening. Because this is where Boehner and his cohort are going down. The people the Tea Party et al fear so much—people who think, people who want to learn rather than [...]

September Berries

2013-09-05T08:36:58-07:00Categories: dementia, midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

Late-season blackberries are like the denizens of a well-worn tavern: this one’s dry as an old raisin, that one’s pretty but dusted with mold; this one is big but refuses to mature, that one is sweet but too soft, turning to jam in your hand. Picking blackberries after Labor Day is indeed labor. And yet I find it compulsively absorbing. I wade in the shallows at the edge of Lake Washington, scanning, searching, occasionally finding. I work my way along the shoreline, a plastic bag in my sticky purple hand, my water sandals nested in mud. The sun is hot on my back. I’m concentrating so hard you’d think I was taking the Blackberry SATs. Often, I go berry picking with the goal of Thinking about something that needs thinking about: for example, should I let go of the dream of a traditional publisher for my memoir and try a different route? Or, on a more immediate note, how soon can I text my son, who is 3,000 miles away and in the throes of mono, and ask him if he’s feeling any better today? But when I step into the water and begin my hunt for the plumpest, darkest berries, I stop thinking. I go into a sort of trance state in which the only thing that matters is: where’s the next one? Is it there, on that cluster? No: they look ready, but they’re not. Or there, on the next branch? No: those ones should have been picked last week. Mold has crept over [...]

Restless Breeze

2013-08-29T14:50:43-07:00Categories: arts, hiking, nature, parenting, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , |

I’m restless, I’m humid, I’m one big inhale. I’m a late-August breeze in the shape of a woman. Labor Day is SO next week. Vacation’s over. There’s work to do. But give me any excuse and I’m jumping on my bike. And/or into the lake. I’m stalking blackberry bushes with a plastic bag. I’m looking at the Washington Trails Association website, studying the Hike of the Week, reading articles about what to do if you encounter a bear. I think the entire Northwest population is unanimous about how wonderful the weather has been this summer, even with these recent splatters of rain. It’s such a big deal for us: we don’t always have summers like this one, with tomatoes ripening in early August and day after day glittering like a glacial stream. But it also makes it very hard to say goodbye. Word from the weather watchers is that we don’t have to quite yet, thank God: the September forecast is for more, more, more. But therein lies the challenge: how do we shift gears, get busy, get going, when our restless bodies and minds shout Summer? I am hoping that resuming my reports from the Restless Nest will help. Breaks are good, but I’ve missed this, which is so different from anything else I do or write. And the Nest is authentically Restless right now. Our children—who don’t live under our roof but do live nearby—are off adventuring. Claire’s in the mountains of Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps, out of cellphone reach for ten [...]

Borders

2013-03-25T15:43:00-07:00Categories: arts, midlife, parenting|Tags: , , , , , , |

I grew up in a world of well-marked borders between work and the rest of life. Work was something my father did in an office downtown, not ever at home. I knew he was an “insurance agent” but I didn’t know, or really care, what that meant. Work was what he did to earn money. That’s all work meant. When my parents divorced, the Mad Men lifestyle they had modeled for us ended, at least at our house, for good. My mother went back to college and became a teacher, daily demonstrating to her six children how thoroughly work and the rest of life could and did mix when necessary. Her evenings were filled with making dinner, grading papers, paying bills, grading more papers. But still I thought of work as what you did to earn money. These days, I’m not sure what to think. I do plenty of work that is important to me for which I don’t get paid. I write these radio commentaries. I create independent documentary films with my husband, Rustin Thompson. This unpaid work gets all mixed in, every day, with our paying work. The borders are porous and the benefits flow both ways. We bring more creative energy to the work we do for our clients—nearly all of them hard-working nonprofits in the Puget Sound area—who in turn inspire us to be creative. Meanwhile, there’s cooking, housework, family time, all going into the daily mix. Believe me, ours is not a great business model, if you define business in terms [...]

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 [...]

Layered Days

2012-12-27T09:10:04-08:00Categories: midlife, Seattle|Tags: , , , |

Memory is like layers and layers of scarves on a cold day, I thought as I walked through the Pike Place Market a few days before Christmas. You wrap yourself up, you revel in the warmth that comes from decades of turning the same corners at the same time of year. But then you feel a chilly blast, a spatter of December-in-Seattle raindrops just this side of ice and you remember: oh, right. Along with all these warm layers of Happy inevitably come the cold, damp sprays of Sad. At no time of year is this more true than right now. And the older you get, the more layers there are, happy/sad happy/sad, happy/happy sad/sad, until you think you might drown in all the layers, you might just go under altogether, especially if you are walking through a known memory minefield like the Pike Place Market. You’re sure your head and heart might explode at any moment. You wonder why no one can tell. The nervous, branch-thin cheese cutter at De Laurenti’s: clearly, she’s a seasonal hire, unlike the more seasoned gang at Sosio’s Fruit and Produce, who sense immediately your need for triage. Four of them spring into action, filling a box, encouraging you to focus your exploding mind on the concrete, present-moment compresses of carrots, spinach, lettuce, pretty little tomatoes called “strawberries,” chanterelle mushrooms crowded in a box like ballerinas waiting backstage. The Sosio Brothers, and sisters, are old enough to know. They don’t know your personal details, but they viscerally know you didn’t [...]

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 [...]

Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits

2012-07-19T07:09:17-07:00Categories: midlife|Tags: , , , |

Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits. When you’re in a searching mode, you hear clues everywhere, even on the call-the-gardeners radio show. What could this mean, I ask myself? I know they’re talking about crop rotation, but what could it actually mean to me personally? Act. Observe. Be Open. I recently went to a yoga class for the first time in quite a while and this was the phrase the teacher repeated and riffed on. Act. Observe. Be Open. My mind raced as I stretched into unfamiliar positions. What could it mean? Maybe… take action, but be observant and open as you do? Now, I’m trying to put these pieces together. I am trying to act, observe and be open as I rotate into a new phase of my working life, but it is one tendon-straining reach. I have to fight the urge to curl up instead of act. I have to fight the impulse to constantly judge myself, instead of gently observing. And I don’t want to Be Open, I want answers now. So back to the gardeners and their formula for crop rotation. Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits. I’m guessing the idea is to rotate the same patch of dirt from year to year between plants grown for their leaves, roots, flowers or fruits, respectively. So: one year lettuce, the next year carrots, then daisies, then berries? Something like that. Viewed from a metaphoric gardening perspective, I think what I’m trying to do right now is a little crop rotation. It’s not always a pleasant job. You [...]

Slowness Breaks

2012-06-27T14:52:09-07:00Categories: midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , , |

When you’ve been moving fast, slowing down sometimes feels nearly impossible. Especially if you’ve been flitting like a hummingbird from task to task, as we so often do in our speed-loving, app-happy, instant-everything culture. For example: every single time I sit down to write, I have to relearn the most basic of lessons, which is: Going slow is the fastest way to get the job done. Because there is just no way to do it besides: One. Word. At. A. Time. It’s like bricklaying: it happens brick by brick. Or, to use author Anne Lamott’s famous example, if you are writing a school report about birds, you have to go bird by bird. Last week, I activated my new smart phone. Oh, the new high-speed horizons! But something unexpected happened on the way to my new 21st century lifestyle. In my eagerness to embrace all that my new toy had to offer, I brought my four-year-old laptop into the computer store for some upgrades. Long story short, something somewhere got miswired in the process and I ended up making four trips to the store and spending quite a bit of the week without my number-one tool: my laptop. Fortunately, I picked the right week: no looming work deadlines. But I still felt like I’d been handcuffed. Sure, I had my sparkly new phone. But you can’t write write on a phone. And yes, I own pens and pencils and I used them plenty last week. But for 25 years, my habit has been to scribble unedited [...]

Raised to Please

2012-04-03T20:12:48-07:00Categories: midlife, politics|Tags: , , , , |

We are raised to please. We are raised to attract. We are raised to decorate, divert and delight. We are raised to invite attention, not to seek it. To never, ever risk rejection. And when I say we, of whom do I speak? It must be a group known to include me. Might it be… people over 50? Seattleites? Speakers of English? Of course not. You know who I’m talking about. Women. And what, you might ask, is so wrong with being raised to please? Nothing at all, if you are born and remain a lovely-to-look-at, ornamental sort of a woman. Nothing at all, if ornamenting the world brings you great joy. But what if what you long to do is build tall buildings? Play basketball? Conduct high-risk scientific research? Or—in my case—write? And in order to achieve that writing dream, you have to lob your precious words out into the world so they can be rejected over and over and over again until at last, you get lucky and what you’ve written is accepted and printed? Briefly, you are filled with joy—until your freshly published words are actually read. And not everyone likes them. And you want to die because you have displeased a few people. Men, on the other hand, are raised to risk rejection or die trying. They’re raised to understand for every ten girls they ask out, one might say yes and hey, that’s great! They grow up understanding they won’t get a good job unless they apply for 100. They learn [...]

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 [...]

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, [...]