This Blog Post Is Meta

I put a very short story up on Medium. I’ve started putting a few things there to have a cleaner platform separate from the daily mishmash I’ve been doing over here. Sorry, I mean the daily meditations I’ve been doing here.

I’m going to put together a collection of essays, with a theme running through them of public spaces in the city, public transit in the city, and a sort of people-watching that often winds up having political and spiritual undercurrents.

This wasn’t part of that, though, it was just a little 600-word story that I found again and put up on Medium. It’s first-person, narrated by a child in Alaska. I’d say it’s about families. It’s also wildly autobiographical. It’s called Clean Sheets.

I’m little-by-little starting to cross-post and creep out of the Internet forest where I’ve been safely hiding for a few years. I’m taking classes, I’m sticking my neck out, I’m starting to pitch ideas again.

I’m turning 40 next year. Have I mentioned that? I’ve been acting like the first person to ever contemplate turning 40. I’ll probably just keep doing that.

Thanks to any fellow travelers who read this!!

XOXO

 

 

 

 

Sightseeing Car

July 4, 2017

I think since the Fourth of July is a travel day, that means I’ll be sidestepping the holiday altogether. It’s such a hot, dusty, crowded holiday sometimes and we’re sliding toward authoritarianism right now, so skipping it seems fine. But it doesn’t work out like that on the Coastal Starlight Amtrak train from Salem to Seattle.

By the time we cross the Columbia River and head up into Western Washington, I’ve abandoned my seat in coach and am stationed in the sightseeing car. On those big trains that come all the way up from L.A., the coach cars feel like dormitories. People are really camping out in there. There’s little babies, and odors, and sleeping bags. More than half of the curtains have been pulled shut. The sightseeing car is full of light and windows, with the seats facing out.

A couple of volunteer park rangers are narrating what we see out the windows. They have a lot of good information about rivers, the industrial stuff we pass, ships taking grain to Hong Kong, steel plants. Osprey nests. Local history. It’s a bit cheesy at times, but I enjoy the narration of the ride, and it’s kind of cute how many people are happy to be talked at by the old duffers in vests.

Different people sit around me and then depart. They half listen, half talk amongst themselves. A young man in head to toe Seahawks gear sits down awkwardly in the seat next to me for a while. I take him to be Middle Eastern. Two young Asian women across the aisle seem to just be getting to know each other. I catch snippets of their conversation. “It can be hard. Do your parents speak English?” “No, do yours?”

I’m half listening, half writing in my journal about my weekend at the coast. A little voice says, “Excuse me, but is anyone sitting here?” It’s a black girl of about 8 years old. She is wearing pink sweat pants and a grey sweatshirt with pink stars on it. She has many long black braids. She’s confident, she’s polite, she’s smiling. For the moment she’s unaccompanied by an adult. I tell her to sit down. She’s peering out the window but also keeps blatantly looking over at me writing. “Whatchu writin about?” she asks. I tell her, “Just my weekend. Stuff that happened.” She looks disappointed, like she doubted I had a very interesting weekend, and if it were her writing it would be something juicier.

A little while later, an older man comes in the car. I don’t take him for her grandpa at first because even though his skin is dark brown like hers, he has one long braid down his back and his facial features and body language remind me of the old Native guys in the town where I grew up. But he is her grandpa and they move a little further down the car to where there were two seats together. He is spare and stone-faced, with a ball-cap on and plain jeans and a t-shirt. He doesn’t react much to the girl and certainly not to anyone else around him, but she merrily fills the picture in. “Yes, this is my grandpa,” I hear her say to someone across the aisle. She’s turned around in her chair, long arms hanging off the back. “We go to the lake, but usually only when it’s good for fishing. We catch a lot of fish. And eat them.”

I remind myself not to stereotype. Just because he seems really Native American, that doesn’t mean he is. He’s just a travel weary guy with an inscrutable face. And the whole inscrutable face thing, that’s stereotyping too.

We pass a tree farm, and one of the volunteers is saying in the microphone, “This is a Christmas tree farm, but where on Earth do you think you could use a 30-foot tall Christmas tree?” The little girl’s hand shoots up. The old white guy points to her and she says, “IN A MANSION.” He says, “Well no, they just cut some of the branches off to make wreaths and the rest of the tree keeps growing.”

She turns back to the window, unfazed. She seems to know her answer was better than his. She seems pleased with herself, and reasonably sure others are pleased with her too. Not in a show-offy way, but just in a nice way.

I hear two people behind me talking. Their travel plans were both thrown off by the train derailment a couple of days earlier. They commiserate, and then start talking about other things. They both live in Seattle. The woman is white, in her late twenties or early thirties. I’d taken a peek at her earlier. I don’t know about the guy. He sat down after I looked last. I don’t want to look over and be obvious.

Then I hear her saying, “You know, that one, that loud-mouthed African woman.” I think, “Who can she be talking about?” and then realize she means Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American councilwoman. The woman is saying that raising the minimum wage to $15 has “ruined Seattle” and caused businesses to close their doors. The man she’s talking to says “Um… that’s all really… debatable.” The woman goes on to say that she herself got a pay bump when the minimum wage was raised, but she says it scornfully, like it was no good to her.

A man on the other side of them overhears the exchange and comes into the conversation. The two men are ignoring the woman now, choosing not in fact to have that debate. They are talking between themselves about volunteering for this or that Democratic state legislator’s campaign. They are both really well versed in the nuances of local politics.

The woman butts back in and says loudly, “Are you Hispanic?” The man sitting next to her says “Uh, no. Not at all.” She says “Ok, well I was just asking a question.” Then she says, “Where are you from, then?” He says, “I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio.” He is keeping his voice more casual than she is, but I can hear a certain tension sliding in. I can’t take it anymore, and glance over. The young man she’s talking to is the one I’d seen before, the possibly Middle Eastern (?) man in Seahawks gear. “Ohhhh” I think, as it all slides into place.

We’re approaching Centralia now. The little girl is still engaged with the scenery, the narration, her braids, her neighbors, herself. Her grandpa is still staring straight ahead thinking unknowable thoughts and betraying no emotion whatsoever.

The guys at the front with microphones are saying, “Centralia was founded by George Washington. No, not that George Washington!” They go on to explain that George Washington was the son of “a white servant girl and an enslaved black man” in Wherever, USA. His mother was afraid he would be sold into slavery, so she begged some people going west to adopt her son and take him with them. The family moved farther and farther west and I think George was a young man by the time they got to Washington. Stories of his entrepreneurial pluck. His ingenuity. How much the town loved him. How he was honored when he died in 1905.

I’m thinking, “Well, this is told like such a happy ending, but it’s a tragedy that this guy’s mother had to give him away because of slavery.” I think of Charles Mudede’s criticism of Nicole Brodeur—writing as if only white people are reading. I figure that’s what we’re all doing all the time. That’s America for you. One long rolling micro aggression, just like this train ride.

The train stops at Centralia, and our car is blocking an intersection. Cars are stopped waiting for the tracks to clear. A white couple in white middle age walk up and stop there, waiting. I look at them and think, “So you live in a town that was founded by a black man. Huh. Looks like Trump country.” I have no idea. I’m just stereotyping. He’s kind of sweaty and ruddy with a beer gut under his t-shirt and mussed up hair and sunglasses. She’s prim in her culottes with her little bob. I have no idea. But they seem very white and they could be Trump voters.

Then they’re smiling and doing big waves and I look over and see that they’re responding to the little black girl in the sweat suit and braids. She’s cheesing for them through the window. She’s waving like she’s royalty and her subjects have flocked to the tracks to watch her roll through her kingdom. I look to see if her grandpa looks amused. He is stone-faced as ever. I think, “maybe he’s like this all the time, or maybe he’s just really sick of white people.” As the train continues to sit there, the couple and the little girl both get distracted, but then as we pull away, there is a last beaming, waving connection—this time initiated by the white man on the sidewalk, who cranes his head and tips forward and makes the girl laugh with his goofy waving.

We’re running along the coastline now, and there are people down on the beach, on the rocks, on boats, on docks with their legs dangling off – mostly white people. The volunteer guys call our attention to a small island out in the bay, Fox Island. They begin another historical story, about how there was an Indian war because the governor of Washington was going to put “four large tribes and one small tribe” on a reservation out on that tiny island. I hear that the old white guys are trying, that they are saying the governor was responsible for the war, they are saying the names of the individual nations. They are saying it’s ridiculous that someone was trying to put all those people on a reservation on such a little island.

I think “HOLD ON” that’s not a reservation, that’s internment.

And then the guy speaking says that the tribes lost that battle but they “kind of won the war” because they got larger, separate reservations.

HOW IS THAT WINNING.

God. White people!

HOW IS THAT WINNING.

South of Tacoma, the crowds get bigger, browner, more citified. From the train it looks like some idealized version of a happy, multiethnic, multicultural society. Hijabis strolling in the sun. Big latino (latinx?) families. Kids running around. Black women with big natural hair and flowy skirts, swishing in the breeze. It’s just everybody. And people look happy. Tweets from that morning’s Black Twitter flash before my eyes. What the Fourth of July means, has meant to black people. How people find a way to carve out their own meaning, find their own sources of joy.

I read Black Twitter, and maybe I’m a bit of a lurker for following so many great black women writers on Twitter and reading their blogs and think pieces. But I figure if I keep listening to them, maybe I’ll be ready just on the off chance that I write something someday that finds its way to one of them. Because I don’t want to write like only white people are reading, or talk like only white people are listening, or experience the U.S. like only a white person can.

TOWOIT #153

June 18-22, 2017… Days 150-154

I am still assembling my notes and thoughts on the Montana road trip so I am just making this start as a placeholder. News was consumed differently, routines were disrupted, signs of political leanings were watched for, whiteness was pondered, Juneteenth was noted, an attempt at a vacation was made.

June 18, 2017        Seattle, Washington to Wallace, Idaho

Driving out of Seattle. It’s misty. We’re getting a late start. Preachin the Blues is on KEXP and they’re celebrating Juneteenth a day early on the show. They play Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come. I say to Andrew, “We’re going into the heart of whiteness. Red state road trip.”

It’s Father’s Day. We’re thinking about the Philando Castile verdict and his fiance’s little girl. This morning Trump’s lawyer said he was NOT under investigation, even though Trump himself tweeted that he was. No no, the lawyer said, Trump was just referring to a Washington Post article. Andrew switches the radio to a show about whiskey. After awhile, we listen to an episode of the podcast The Dollop. The one about Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first openly black baseball player in the Major Leagues. I say something about Colin Kaepernick. Did he just fail to vote in 2016, or did he make a point of it? Whatever, I wanted Seattle to pick him up.

They’re labeling the crops on the fences. Field corn. Potatoes. Sweet corn. Potatoes. Alfalfa. Sewage Lagoon. We see a pick-up truck painted over with a rippling American flag. We’re 21 miles from Moses Lake, Washington. When I get the internet for a moment, I find out that the police in Seattle shot and killed a 30 year old black woman, Charleena Lyles, in front of her children. When we have the internet for a moment, I read Charles Mudede’s call out of Nicole Brodeur. Saying in her columns, she writes as if only white people will read her columns. Nicole is a friend. I think “Am I doing that too?” Probably, yes. Potatoes. Field Corn. Field Corn. Sweet Corn.

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Wait, what is this picture showing? People in Seattle were really upset by the Seattle Times’s coverage and headlines.

We have dinner at the Radio Brewery in Kellogg, Idaho. “I don’t think everyone in here voted for Trump, do you?” I ask Andrew. He says, “Well, I don’t think that guy in the Sublime t-shirt working in the kitchen is *crazy* about Donald Trump, but I’m pretty sure he hates Hillary.”

At the end of the night, we are at The Metals Bar in Wallace, Idaho. A sign in the window says “We support our miners” and in the back of the bar, a circular sign is lit up, “Strike.” There are several regulars in the bar, and an old guy named Bill starts talking to us in a friendly way. Everyone is white. Bill moves a child’s Father’s Day drawing and some empty Miller Lite cans so the bar is clear and tells us to sit down. He’s sitting kitty korner from us and tells us how his father in law died in the Sunshine Mine disaster of 1972. Two women come in, mother and daughter. They aren’t from Wallace, but the daughter says she wants to move here. She’s got a cute camo hoodie, a camo purse and the butt of her jeans are bedazzled. She and her mom look like really nice people. They look at an old black and white photo of a woman working in the mine. Bill says to them, “There weren’t many women working in the mines. We call them betties.” The older woman nods and says, “My mom worked in a coal mine in West Virginia.” I say in Andrew’s ear, “Everyone here seems so nice. Do you think they all voted for Trump?” Andrew looks at me like I just said maybe the Easter Bunny is real.” He says, “Of course they did.” One of the regulars gets up and puts a song on the juke box. It’s Sam Cooke. It’s A Change is Gonna Come.

June 19, 2017             Wallace, Idaho to Missoula, Montana

“Maybe just acknowledging whiteness as a thing at least means you don’t accept whiteness as the norm, or as the invisible air we breathe. If whiteness is a thing, then it is surrounded by other things, and it is not the only thing.” I am getting too metaphysical early in the morning on vacation. Andrew is always nice about this, and I have to remind myself not to monologue too much, because he’s too generous to send me the correct signals about how tedious I’m becoming.

We’re already tired of driving. When I can see internet, my phone tells me that all my friends back home are wrecked. A 17-year old Muslim girl was found dead in a pond in Virginia. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles. People are wrecked. I’m supposed to be looking at the evergreen trees and mountain sides, and I’m supposed to be another pair of eyes on the road. In case there are suicidal deer or big-horned sheep or whatever. I put my phone away and rummage for what else is in my bag. I find a slim comic I bought at VANCAF and forgot was in my bag, like that time I accidentally took a yellow onion to the beach. The book is Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

The sound of NPR is grounding even when the news is bad. A white man in a van mowed down Muslims leaving a mosque in London. Andrew points out that we haven’t actually seen ANY political bumper stickers, signs, or bill boards. We certainly haven’t seen Trump’s name anywhere. There’s a promo for an interview with Roxane Gay. I say “Someone out here is listening to Roxane Gay.” He said, “Sometimes the NPR station is the only one that comes in.”

We get into Missoula and walk around. In historical downtown Missoula, there are signs of liberalism.

That night in the hotel room, I read that the White House press briefing was off-camera again today. I tell Andrew, “I would have been ON this if I were home.” I have access to Fox News now, so I watch Hannity for awhile. The chyron says “Russian Collusion Hysteria.” I click over to CNN. The Democratic Senators are trying to hold the floor tonight over Obamacare repeal and replace. It’s past 11 pm in Washington, D.C. and they look tired.

June 20, 2017… Missoula through Drummond, Phillipsburg, Anaconda, and Butte to wind up in Helena.

We have breakfast burritos before we leave town. When we walk in, a Talking Heads sign is just ending. “I bet this place is run by white people,” says Andrew. A Greg Brown song starts up — Greg Brown! My favorite! I say, “Shhhhh. I’m flying into the heart of my whiteness.” Today is Jon Ossoff day in the Georgia 6th, so I’m nervous. In Drummond, MT there are anti-meth signs. A mural that looks like it was done by school children shows a toilet and the words, “Meth Makes Your Life Go Down the Drain.” The town is bustling though. Men standing around a giant piece of new farm equipment are smiling and waving at us as we drive through. A few miles out of town there’s a billboard that says “Every Addict Needs His Hook-up.” It’s an advertisement for a fly fishing shop. A sign on a house says, “This Family Supported by Timber Dollars.” On the Bible Broadcast Network, which we like to check in with, a man is disputing that the heat wave in Phoenix has anything to do with climate change. I keep looking at my watch and calculating what time it is in Georgia.

We stop in Anaconda and study the informational placards about the giant smokestack left over from a copper mine. We notice the sign saying there have been 69 highway deaths in Montana year to date. We listen to Baby Geniuses–an episode recorded and posted months ago. It was recorded right before the election, and aired right after the election. The hosts come on and talk for a few moments before the recorded episode, saying they know what happened and how everyone is feeling. “We have to hold onto this feeling,” said one of them. They said if you’re white and can slip into normalcy after the dust settles, just don’t. Remember this feeling of being in the thick of it. Remember wanting to help people.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

Butte is beautiful and interesting, but it’s the heat of the day and we’re spooked by all the signs announcing mine deaths. Rolling into town we see a bumper sticker on the back of a street sign: “Anyone but Hillary.” We decide to keep driving to Helena. Jon Ossoff loses the special election in Georgia. I text a lament to my mother and she fires back, “you’re supposed to be resting your brain from this stuff.” In the morning she posts Dan Rather’s calming words on her Facebook timeline.

June 21, 2017… Helena to Great Falls to Missoula.

We still haven’t seen anything mentioning Trump by name. And not much political stuff in general. In Great Falls we see this pick-up truck. “Is it… sarcasm?” I ask. We can’t tell.

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Driving on Highway 200 back to Missoula, we see along the highway: “In God We Trust, In Our Country we Trust, In Our Government We Don’t Trust.” We see a sign that says “You want change in government? Let’s try honesty for a change.” We see a Don’t Tread on Me Flag. We still haven’t seen anything about Trump anywhere.

June 22, 2017 … Missoula, Montana all the way back to Seattle, Washington

New dash cam footage is released from Philando Castile’s shooting. Trevor Noah says he is broken. Shaun King says the fight against police brutality is being lost. Senate Republicans release the Better Care Reconciliation Act. It’s pretty bad, but no CBO score until next week. On Facebook, people are saying “I’m not even sure I can do Pride this year.” Leaving downtown Missoula, we see two bumper stickers on a truck. First, “The Precious Metals of Freedom… Gold, Silver, and LEAD.” And then, “NRA: Stand and Fight.” I look at my watch. “Thirty-six minutes till the new Gallup Poll comes out.”

Trump says he does not have any tapes of his conversations with Comey. “Why did he keep us in suspense for 41 days?” someone asks Kellyanne.

Heading into sun-blasted eastern Washington, we’re listening to the Dollop episode about the boxer Jack Johnson. When he beat the white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, there were race riots in 25 states and 50 cities. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured. Several white men were reported to have COMMITTED SUICIDE over it. And we wonder sometimes if it’s true that white people would really trash this country because a black man was president for eight years.

Joe Lewis, who came along after Jack Johnson, had a list of do’s and don’ts. One of them was, “Don’t eat watermelon in public.”

Colin Kaepernick announces that he won’t participate in the NFL anymore.

Donald Trump tweets that it’s all a “big Dem HOAX.”

We stop in Ellensburg, Washington for dinner and we see the first Trump sign or sticker we’ve seen in 4 days of driving outside our blue coastal county. And someone’s defaced it.

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Back in Seattle we see Charleena Lyles’s name on the pavement.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

TOWOIT #48

March 5, 2017… Day 45

I finally saw Get Out. I had been maddened by stringently avoiding all the articles, listicles, hot takes and think pieces on it. I’m glad I kept myself spoiler free, and I’m glad I saw the movie. I’m glad I’m out of the echo chamber of seeing articles about it everywhere but not being able to read any of them! I still have some festering anger though. It started before I saw the movie, and it is based on one piece of the reaction.

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I saw three main types of reaction in my social media feed. Black people celebrating the film for its accuracy, insight, and representation. And just saying it was good. On top of that, a whole bunch of hot takes by white liberal men who consider themselves film buffs. The spoiler-free versions of these that I read all seemed to float above any sort of racial culpability. These guys seemed to think that if they praised the film for how well made it was, and if they didn’t have any GRIPES about how it portrayed white people, that meant there was no need to engage emotionally with the themes. They were cool with the movie. The movie was cool with them. No sweat, no problem.

That might not have bothered me so much if it weren’t for the third wave of reactions I saw to the movie: Why White Liberal Women are Literally the Worst. I saw at least three separate articles titled something like that. Sure, white liberal women have issues and are racist. I girded my loins to watch that film, knowing it was going to be 104-minute full-body cringe-fest of unflattering self-recognition. And that on top of that, I was going to identify with the pain and terror of the main character, because that’s what you do with main characters. So I was geared up to be predator and prey both. And I  was freaked out and sad and horrified.

I thought the movie itself was really good, and I hope as many people as possible go see it. It’s just the white guys who made me mad. Leaving white women to do the emotional labor of absorbing our race’s culpability in this country. Once again failing to actually engage with the notion that some people are treated like disposable objects, machines, beasts, or trophies in this country. Not having to care, so not caring. Not having to hurt, so not hurting.

But I also don’t want to use that part of my reaction as a way to try to wrest the focus off the central issue of blackness and violence done to black bodies and minds (by white people and white-dominated institutions). And therefore, I will not be writing my own think piece. Although I realize that this rumination has stretched into a few paragraphs, making it rather thinky and rather piecy.

P.S. I’m including this as my official log-entry in Trump’s America day 45

 

 

Coelacanth

I lived in Seattle for a few years in my 20s, in a crappy studio across the parking lot from the coffee shop where I worked. Outside of work, I just wrote and hung out with friends and said yes whenever someone asked me out. Then I crushed so hard on a pedal steel guitar player that I moved to Brooklyn. After several years I wound up in Seattle again.

Not long after I moved back, a customer from that old coffee shop sat down next to me on the 44 bus. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t kept in touch. He was an odd duck, lived alone with his cat, worked from home. There was always the sense that he gleaned a large chunk of his social nutrition each day from our smiles of greeting, the fact that we knew his name, the casual exchange of basic pleasantries. I respected that he was like a creature that lived near a deep sea vent—the solitude and simplicity of his life wouldn’t be for everyone, but he was well adapted to it. This was back when I viewed myself as young and full of possibility. Others as old, limited, gone round the bend. I was a smug, ponytailed angel of customer service.

When he sat next to me on the bus, he didn’t say hello or make eye contact. I was older and thicker and squarer. I figured he didn’t remember me. He was still staring straight ahead when he said, “Did you ever read that book about coelacanths that I told you about?”

I had no recollection of the fish, the book about the fish, or the conversation about the book. My mind was blank except for the way the syllables in the word itself knocked against each other. That I remembered like a song that gets stuck in your head for a whole summer. I laughed his question off and then it was my stop.

Only later did it come swimming back to me: I did read the book. I must have. Why else would I know so much about coelacanths and their rediscovery?

Northbound 16: Friday

Friday afternoon. Crowded bus, and the first person who gets on who can’t find a seat is a very tall, very rangy old man with baggy clothes that hang well on his broad shoulders even though they are the muddied, rumpled, tattered layers of a homeless person who is having a hard time keeping up with hygiene. He smells that way too. His hair is thick and white, and in its dirtiness has shaped itself into a wind-blown pompadour that is rakishly pleasing in the way it looks blasted up and away from his skull. He comes in talking to himself and instead of proceeding all the way to the back, he stops in the aisle about ten feet back and stands there facing the front, one hip jutted, one hand on each rail. He’s just a few feet back from me. The people who get on the bus on the next several stops crowd near the front instead of asking him to move back farther, or trying to move past him.

He’s saying “What’s the matter, Kevin? Are you afraid? What’s the matter, Kevin-faggot, you little squealer, San Quentin isn’t good enough for you, Kevin. Are you afraid of fainting, Kevin? I’ll bash your head in with a baseball bat, Kevin. Ahhh, come on down, Kevin-faggot, come on down.” He has a warm, sandy voice that contrasts with what he’s saying, and he draws out all his words except “Kevin” and “Kevin-faggot” which are quick, staccato, bitten off. The effect is mesmerizing. He sounds like a schoolyard sadist who is really, really good at what he does. Also like a crime boss.

The guy standing in front of him answers a cell phone call and is saying loudly, “Yeah, yeah! Everything’s great! Really looking forward to seeing you guys!” So for a bit I can’t hear what the Dickens character behind him is saying, but I catch a few intriguing words and phrases besides the ubiquitous “Kevin.” These include “Molly Ringwald’s best friend”, “Joe Pesci”, and “the Everett Herald.”

A popular stop comes and a bunch of people press off, including the man on the cell phone. A woman sitting behind me gets up, and tries to politely but assertively squeeze past the people standing to get off the bus. She’s more polite than assertive and there is a long moment when she is standing facing the front and there is no one between her and the man talking to Kevin, who is just a few feet back. I feel nervous for her, anxious that the people in the aisle let her by. I don’t think anything is going to happen to her, I just feel the social claustrophobia of the situation. She glances back at him, then forward, and he takes a step forward just as she manages to sidle past someone and get away.

The tall man is maneuvers to two newly empty seats across the aisle from me. He slants diagonally across both seats, one long leg folded over the other and a foot dangling elegantly out into the aisle. He drapes one long arm across the back of the seat, and the other rests lightly on his knee. He looks like he should be wearing an ascot and smoking a fine cigar, maybe expounding on W.B. Yeats. I lean forward and take a quick look at his face. It is ruddy and weathered with crazy teeth. He looks like he could not be a real person in real life, he is far too much of a caricature. He is a fine-featured actor having a lark in his old age, playing a stereotypical homeless guy. I am separated from him by a stoic young man who is studiously looking straight ahead. The old man across the aisle hasn’t stopped disparaging Kevin and I try to swivel my ears to catch his little phrases. “Heeyyyyy,” he’s saying, and then “Kev-Kev! How many times are you going to lie under oath, Kevin-faggot? I’ll strangle you, Kevin.”

A woman sitting in front of him hands her bag to the stranger sitting next to her and awkwardly moves up past the people standing, to get to the driver as the bus is flying up Aurora. Her voice carries back as she says “This man is being VERBALLY ABUSIVE TO ME! He does NOT belong on this bus!!” The driver hears the shrill urgency in her voice but can’t understand what she’s saying. He brakes and pulls over before we get to the bridge. He says, “What now?” She repeats, “He is verbally ABUSING me!! He shouldn’t be on here!”

A man standing near the front in a black leather jacket, male-pattern baldness, says to both the woman and the driver, “Now, in my opinion, that man is really just talking to himself and not to you.” It’s true. If anyone is being abused, it’s Kevin. The woman is disgusted by the lack of sympathy and struggles back to her seat. She’s in her late 50s, dressed in business clothes. The man behind her keeps talking to Kevin.

Several minutes later she goes up to the front again. The bus has emptied out some, so it’s easier for her to get to the front. She says “He’s saying FAGGOT an awful lot – so I guess that’s just ok now? Saying FAGGOT?”

The man stops talking to Kevin for a few beats and then calls forward in a pleasant voice, “What’s the matter, miss? You don’t know the way to the University of Washington?” The man standing up front in the black leather jacket says nicely, “It’s ok; he’s just talking to himself.” And then the talker says a little defensively, “A lot of people talk to themselves! You know what you can do, man in the leather jacket? You can grow some hair on the top of your head.” This guy is a lot gentler with people in real life than he is with Kevin. He’s leaned out into the aisle to say all this, and for the first time the driver can see him in the mirror. The driver laughs. “OH,” he says, “is that who we’ve been talking about?”

Both the offended woman and the offending man got off at the next stop and went their separate ways on the sidewalk. There’s an exhalation, a murmur—partly because of him, and partly because of her. More because of the general situation. The driver says to the man in the leather jacket, but also to anyone who can hear, “That’s the first time he’s been like that. Usually he just sits quietly, very well-behaved.”

At the next stop, the young man gets up. Before he gets off the bus he turns and says to the driver, “I thought you handled that very well. What’s your name?” The driver says “Uh… Paul?” and the young man, who has turned red, thanks him and nearly falls down the steps of the bus as he gets off.

After he’s gone, the driver says “I didn’t really think I handled it. I didn’t do much of anything.” I say, “Well, you didn’t over-react.” My voice doesn’t come out loudly enough so the driver says to the leather-jacket guy, “What did she say?” Leather jacket says “You didn’t over-react.” The driver smiles at me in the mirror. He is cute, I see now, and I wish I had done more grooming before leaving the house. He says “Riding the bus just means that you’re crammed in with all sorts of people acting all sorts of ways. I have to focus on driving safely. I can’t govern people.”

A guy behind me looks up from his book and says, as if laying the matter to rest, “The guy was just fine. Crazy, yes, but just fine.”

Northbound 16: Thursday

I was just reading Scarlet Witch #4 and thinking how I would definitely disavow that comic immediately if anyone on the bus asked me about it. “Oh this thing? This is terrible.” Situation didn’t come up, though.

At a stop in Wallingford, three older Ethiopian women came on, draped in white  cloth and carrying bundles and roller bags. They filled up the other three seats in my row, the first row of forward-facing seats, and their bags took up the aisle. Then the bus driver—a tall, flat-faced, cornfed white woman with a low ponytail—stood up and said to the six people in the front area, “I’m gonna need all these seats! We have two wheelchairs coming onboard!” The three people on the left were a random assortment of youngish commuters. The three people on the right were a very small, elderly, frail-looking Asian couple with bundles and roller-bags and a tiny girl in red-rimmed glasses carrying a prehistoric diorama larger than herself. All of these people were then standing with all their things, regarding the total roadblock that was the three older Ethiopian women with their many bundles and bags.

What happened next was very slow and mild, with the passengers behind my row, and the three commuters ahead of me just working things out. People got up and shuffled around seats and bags until it just worked out best for everyone. The Spanish-speaking man in a Mariners cap behind me conveyed non-verbally to one of the Ethiopian women that he would just hold her bag on his lap for the rest of the ride, and she was fine with that. A high school kid got up so that the little girl in red glasses could sit next to her grandpa. Someone else stood in the back for several stops, holding onto her diorama.

When everything was finally clear for the wheelchair passengers, the driver smiled at me and said “Busy day!”

Then the people in wheelchairs got on, and both seemed irritated from waiting on the sidewalk in the cold for things to get shuffled around. They didn’t seem to love having such an audience, and they also didn’t seem to want people thinking they were together, like each thought the other was embarrassing to be seen with. But their moods highlighted the calm goodwill of the passengers already on the bus. We have a lot more work to do, and I don’t want to make it sound like everything is rosy for people who depend on public transport. But on that bus on that day, everyone was going to get where they needed to go. No one resented the very young, the very old, the disabled, the culturally different, or the non-native. No one was upset that the bus was starting to run late. And no one was getting left behind.

Princeton Emailed Me About Race

The president of Princeton emailed me and all the other alums, about racial issues happening there.

It was jarring to receive a communication from that side, and feel implicated on that side.

The black kids often struck me as isolated and embattled at Princeton. They were definitely hanging in and putting a good face on things, but even in my racially naive teenaged state I could sense that things weren’t ideal for them. I felt sad for Michele Obama when I heard that she went there.

I can imagine how marginalized black kids might have felt, because I’m white and I felt marginalized. It was probably a whole other order of magnitude to be black at Princeton.

There were a lot of us who felt like we were there to provide a diverse college experience for the core Princeton student body. The REAL Princeton students. “How was the party?” one of us would ask. “Too many Princeton people there,” the other would say. When we said Princeton people, we meant the people Princeton was meant for. People not like us; people we didn’t know how to fit in with and weren’t going to try to fit in with.

“Oh so that’s why you got in,” more than one person told me with a superior smirk. “It’s because you’re from Alaska. Geographical diversity.”

I saw a girl from a small town in northern Idaho try to fit in. She worked so hard. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I thought.

Life was good on the margins of Princeton. The margins of Princeton were kind to me. There were beautiful, funny, brilliant people there. We laughed and laughed.

But like I said, I’m white. I wouldn’t doubt for one second anything a Princeton black person said about feeling alienated, bizarre, unwelcome, a stranger in a strange land.

People I Barely Know #1

I see a barista at a certain Starbucks a lot of mornings. I don’t think she has any idea who I am or registers how or why I might know something about her. She is slight, small, plain-featured, easy to overlook. She always seems with-holding, like she doesn’t quite want to participate in the cheery bustle of her surroundings I don’t blame her at all.

I didn’t notice her at all until one morning a few years ago when I ran into one of my coworkers at that Starbucks. At the sugar and cream island, he pointed her out to me and said “I just asked that barista out! We’re having coffee on Wednesday! I’ve had a huge crush on her!” He then plunged head-long into a revolving door that was locked and wouldn’t revolve, which made the whole thing a funny story.

I’d never been close to this co-worker. We were both young-ish and relatively new, and worked near each other, and he had made a few friendly overtures. I was polite to him, but held him at arm’s length, consciously, because he seemed too avid to me. I didn’t think he was hitting on me. I thought he was gay.

Maybe the small barista thought he was gay too, and was startled into saying yes when he asked her for coffee, but that’s just a guess.

My curiousity over him and the barista, and my enjoyment of the revolving door scene, made me a lot friendlier with my co-worker. I had to know how coffee turned out. Wednesday afternoon I went over to his cubicle and asked him. He said, “Oh, I don’t know. It gave me pause.” He said she had a small child, and the father was still involved and gave her trouble sometimes. Her life seemed hard, intense. He didn’t think he was interested after all. He seemed disappointed, but in a normal way.

I wondered what the coffee date was like for her. I still thought maybe she was just being polite to a regular customer. Or maybe she thought he was really nice.

Three days later, we got a company-wide email that my co-worker had died. We found out later that day, he shot himself. He did it in his car in front of another co-worker’s house who had just been married.

When I saw the barista the next week, I wondered if anyone had told her or if she would ever know. She seemed wan and drawn, but she always did. I still wonder if anyone ever told her, or if she ever knew.

 

Bus Romance

Oct. 19, 2015

I’ve noticed something on on my pre-dawn commute. I’d always seen these two people separately and then at some point they started sitting together in a very familiar way. I was jolted when I noticed. BUS ROMANCE??

He is a VERY handsome and well-kept black man in fluorescent safety coveralls that looked stylish on him. He looked clean cut. Dapper. He did something in construction, I overheard at some point later. She’s white and looks twelve years older than him, but who knows. She keeps herself together somewhat, but she’s a bit chunky and stuck in the 1990s. She has long lank hair and is a little jowly and sallow. She wears headbands and hoop earrings and leggings and short skirts and boots. She leans toward black clothes and accessories. She’s top-hefty and flat-assed. Pretty eyes.

The third time I saw them get on the bus and sit down together, I decided I was being some kind of racist against him or snide against her to feel surprised. Surely they were a married couple, had been this whole time, and I had only noticed them separately before. Now their schedules had shifted so they ride the bus together. That’s all.

But yesterday they came in and sat right behind me and I heard them talking. First off, I should say that I have no moral high ground. This happened a few times to me back when I rode the 5 bus. High jinks ensued. But maybe because I *had* been there, I felt wracked by self-consciousness on this pair’s behalf. But she didn’t seem self-conscious at all. And I was surprised by how little they still seemed to know each other. She was asking him if he gets a lunch break, and where exactly his work site was, and saying maybe she’d walk the baby down there some time (what baby?) (baby at a construction site?). She asked if he had a picture of his daughter. “I just want to see if she’s as cute as her daddy,” she said. Her voice was loud, a little clotted. Deep and nasal at the same time. His minimal, measured responses seemed smoothly relaxed, self-contained. It read like someone pranked the drama geek into thinking that the quarterback liked her. But he was participating in it, whatever it was.

She got off a few stops before him. I watched her go, a little flounce in her step, and then I turned and looked at him. I just couldn’t quite resist. In another mode, at another time, I would have looked a little brazenly, maybe. A little archly, or humorously, or flirtatiously. But as it was, I was just a frowzy white business casualty in smudgy glasses, glancing owlishly at a handsome black man. He looked back at me with a look as flat as the back of your hand.

October 27, 2015

The lovebirds sat down right in front of me. I couldn’t hear anything they said over the engine this time. I also couldn’t see them too well. They were perpendicular to me and a step down, with a partition between us. So I could just see the top of her head, and more of his head beyond her, and I could see her foot out in the aisle. I could see how slim her ankle was, how boldly patterned her stockings were, and how she kept snapping her shapely foot in and out of a black ballet flat. It was undeniably sexy. Other than that I just caught the tone of her deep clotted voice without being able to hear the words. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of her blunt, stocky fingers as she touched her hair. She was wearing too much perfume and it made my eyes water. He just looked debonair as ever in his bright work gear. Everything in his body language and eyebrows was self-contained and self-assured. He seemed warm without giving too much away. He caught me watching him watching her leave the bus. He glanced over at me. I looked away too quickly, like someone caught red-handed.

October 30, 2015

When they got on the bus, she strode down the aisle ahead of him, wearing a fetching, form-fitting black leather jacket with a diagonal zipper across her torso. She looked luminously happy.

November 9, 2015

I don’t pay too much attention to them anymore, but this morning I heard her say to him “text me later, sweetheart” as she got off the bus. When I got off a couple of stops later, minding my own business, the man smiled at me. He intercepted my gaze as I passed, and confronted me with a smile and a “Good morning.” Almost as if he’d been watching me.

I’m So Not Freezing My Eggs

When I was a student at Princeton in the 90s, people advertised in the school paper for eggs. They were willing to pay as much as $80,000 for the eggs of Princeton students. More specifically, that was the price for eggs from young women with “blonde or light brown hair and blue eyes.” Women fitting my description (“brown hair, brown eyes, Jewish-looking”) could only get about $30,000 for their eggs. I never saw any ads for non-white eggs.

We girls talked about it around the dinner table. Nobody wanted to do it. It seemed shady. “It’s invasive,” said one girl. Another one said, “It could mess up your fertility later—it’s not as simple as they make it sound.” Back then I was idealistic and not motivated by money. That was also a place of privilege, because I had a lot of help with tuition and school costs. I thought about what it would be like to have a biological son or daughter out there, being raised in a New Jersey Jewish or Italian household, going to private school probably. I didn’t want to do it. I saw everything ahead of me—enough money, enough eggs, enough opportunity.

Years later, when a 401k was finally a thing that mattered to me, I thought about that long lost theoretical $30,000. I thought, “If I had invested that $30,000 back then and allowed it to compound, what sort of nest egg might I be on my way to having?” I also began to think, “What if I never have kids, and so it never mattered about keeping my own reproductive system in good shape?” The answers didn’t matter, because I would never have changed my thinking as a kid. It was all hardwired in to my youthful sense of self and integrity.

Now that I’m 37, I’ve spent years churning and cycling through different thoughts and mindsets about having kids. I’ve been single for several years, so I had to call my own bluff about wanting to have kids badly enough to want to be a single parent. I don’t think I do. Mostly, I’ve concluded that I can’t bear to be on the fence. That never having kids is better than this agony of waiting out your last child-bearing years in indecision, with the over-thinking and jealousy and fear and the feeling of being empty. At the end of the day, I am still more afraid of being a parent than of never being a parent. I mean, yeah – I hear there is great love involved, and also that you shouldn’t be ruled by your fears. That doesn’t mean I have the hubris to summon new life into the world.

My wandering back and forth across the line of wanting and not wanting kids has been milder lately, but I still flip flop several times a day. I think about pregnancy. I think about foster-to-adopt. I think about money and fatigue and danger and oceans of regret. Every day I build a case, watch it crumble, build an opposite case. I feel rattled, I feel bad about myself, and I retreat from the subject again. I’m alone with it, and it always seems to come down to the meaning of life and how we’re all hurtling toward death.

Today I heard a radio story about women my age and younger freezing their eggs. How much it costs. What it entails. What the big plan is. Without any dithering or doubt, I thought “I am NEVER doing that.” Twelve hours later, I feel the same way. I think I’m still going to feel this way when I wake up tomorrow.

After the radio made me realize I am unmotivated to see my DNA running around, I thought of all the times something on the radio has motivated me. I’ll hear something and want to rush to produce some answering expression of my own. But I don’t want to reproduce. I know I’m not supposed to freeze my eggs and that any resulting sadness will be livable. I might just bloom too late for things, but I know I’m interested in all of us who are here now. In a few years, maybe I’ll see how much room is in my personal life boat—and whether it seems like I should try to fish someone else out of the muddy water and towel them dry.

Sweet City

(Excerpt from a collection of stories I’m working on with the artist El Chepe)

The missionaries thought they were going to Magnus, a prim town where the people were prosperous and kept a lid on things. Instead they were sent on to Sweet City, where the church was rotting into the sea. When Mark and John arrived it was early fall and the activity of summer hadn’t tapered all the way off yet. Salmonberries grew up through the church floor boards, and migrant workers slept on the pews. Within a couple of weeks the town emptied out, the ships took all the workers away, and it was just the locals left. The town collapsed in toward its spiritual center, the Sweet City Saloon. Summer or winter, Rosie played whiskey-soaked hymns in the bar, and holy honkytonk in the church.

The missionaries did not go to the saloon, but went politely house to house. The locals invited them in, but teased them by pretending not to know who Jesus Christ was. They offered them alcohol, then spiked the soft drinks the missionaries requested instead. “You don’t say?” they’d say, upon hearing the word of the Bible and its teachings. Or they said “Well, I’ll be damned,” and made the young men wince. “But Sonny,” said Dirty Curly, “have you heard about Odin?” Peg-Legged Jake said, “Have you heard about Raven, the trickster?” Hard Rock said, “What does the Bible have to say about banshees?” The children were the worst, and made a game out of teasing the missionaries when they came and went on the town’s mossy staircases.

It was around the time John had learned not to accept beverages at all that he saw the girl for the first time. It had been a long day of knocking on doors and trying to talk to people in the camps and tent cities. They’d been mocked, ignored, and yelled at, and finally invited in by Rosie. Rosie was a girl but not the girl. She sat them down and chatted lightly from the kitchen as she clinked about. To the people of Sweet City, Rosie was severe and straight-laced, determined to have less fun than everyone else and always trying to protect her hands. To Mark and John, she was like a passionate gypsy girl from a storybook. She had long dark hair and her eyebrows were always storming into each other. At one point she hooted with laughter from the kitchen and then turned and hid her mouth behind her arm and waved a dish towel above her head as if in surrender. She put down snacks in front of them and said, “I’ll just keep playing the piano, if you don’t mind.” The missionaries sat in peace and listened. Her father came home and glowered at them, then went into a different room without saying anything.

Afterward the missionaries walked down to the ramshackle liveaboard they shared. Mark came in from pissing over the rail and then John went out. A girl’s head popped out of the water a few feet from where John’s pee hit an oil slick and scummy foam. He fumbled at his fly. He was startled but not surprised anymore by anything the locals did.

The girl giggled—about the peeing, he figured. It looked like her neck had been cut and bruised but it was hard for him to see through her ropy dark hair. She had big lips that hid her teeth and her eyes seemed silver, which John took to be a trick of the low light. “Ish ok,” she said, “Whash your name?” John thought oh great, a drunk, abused girl, swimming alone and slurring her words. What else is new.

They were doing the work of the Lord and were supposed to be open-hearted and love everybody. John tried. He really tried. And most of the time, he was a very generous-hearted young man. But it had been a long day. Also, they were supposed to avoid all occasions of sin. He started to go inside, but then he thought “What if she dies out here?” And he thought, “What if she’s the only person I can reach on this stupid island?”

He came back out, stooping through the narrow doorway. She was gone. Her absence made everything seem strange and silent, and John had the feeling of a small child playing hide and seek in the woods. The last gulls were flying across the water to their roosts in the cliffs.

Her head popped up on the other side of the boat—like a seal, he thought.

“Did you mish me?” she asked, and John said, “I’m John. What’s your name?”

“Phyllish,” she said. He asked if her parents knew where she was. It was hard to tell how old she was. She said she didn’t know where her parents were.

John knew Mark should be here for this. This was why they were supposed to stick together always. Here was this wet girl. The thought of her body, wet, needing to be wrapped up in a blanket or a towel, her flesh goosepimpling, her—“Shut it down, shut it down!” thought John.

Her head whipped around and he looked where she looked. The pump from the fish plant was disgorging guts and blood out through an underwater pipe into the Narrows. The reddening churn of water looked like a shark attack. He and Mark had laughed about it the first several times they saw it, still laughed sometimes. Phyllis gave a muscular lunge in the direction of the fish guts, then disappeared beneath the water. “Like an athlete,” thought John, and then, “or an animal.” He stared after her for a few moments. A few gulls had looped back and wheeled above that bloody spot. The feeling of being alone crept back to John. He went inside to Mark’s snoring.

John sat cramped in the little galley, the lip of the table digging into his forearms. He started to write, “Dear Mother and Dad.” He set the pen down. He took out a pack of cards and began to set up for solitaire. Then he stared across the room to the stove. A wooden spoon hung from the stove, swinging with the slight motion of the boat. John stared and stroked his chin absently as if he had a beard, as if he could grow a beard, as if her were an old man.

(To be continued)

GOOD AT LIFE

August 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks died today. My older brother turned 40 yesterday. Rain interrupted our severe drought. The wind blew trees over. An important ex-boyfriend surfaced online and said hello from another continent. Friends announced engagements and pregnancies on Facebook. Today I decided for the one-hundredth time that I’m not cut out to be a single parent (and maybe not any kind of parent), that I can live without experiencing motherhood, that it’s too crazy to summon new life into existence. We’re here to love, I reminded myself, and love expands like gas to fill any container. It’s strange to be an extra person, but every once in a while you can help someone from that position.

In the early 1990s, I found The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat in my small town public library. Besides being titillated by the subject matter, I liked the soundness of the writing and also its kindness. Even then, in my early teens, I knew I wanted to write. Oliver Sacks showed me that non-fiction can be magical too, and that helped put my life on its spin.

I met Oliver Sacks 11 or 12 years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties. I was battered by a first wave of literary and romantic rejection, and was hiding out as a production assistant at a public radio station. I had just read Uncle Tungsten and still considered Sacks a writing role model. I kept him and Kate Edgar company in the green room before his on-air interview. I was supposed to be tending to his needs, but Kate was already fixing him his tea just the way he liked it. I was standing next to him at a counter when he started rummaging through his draw-string bag, looking for a business card to give me. He took items out one at a time, looked at each one as if he’d never seen it before, and then carefully set it on the counter. A comb. A swimming cap. A little notebook. A pencil. It was completely child-like. I thought “Wow, this guy isn’t that good at life either.”

During that radio interview, Sacks referred to himself as an “isolate.” He said he didn’t form strong attachments to people, and that it was just the way he was. Around the same time I’d started reading Haruki Murakami novels, and I imagined Oliver Sacks as one of Murakami’s characters—a solitary man with a simple life and a few quirks. I imagined Haruki Murakami describing Oliver Sacks with the reportorial kindness that Oliver Sacks used to write about his patients. I imagined myself that way too.

I went on to have more love affairs and minor skirmishes and book ideas in the next decade. I zigged and zagged with the appropriate youthful energy. I stayed in the rock tumbler of false starts for a long, long time, into my deep thirties and on toward forty. I’m still there. I never settled down, and I never got my teeth into any real creative success. I got tired, and I got somewhat practical. When Oliver Sacks’s essay on facing death was published this February, I had been freshly dumped and was heading into my fourth year as an editor at a financial firm. I received his New York Times essay like a religious text. I trusted everything he said about living and dying. When I read his writing, I felt like I was learning how to be a person.

I didn’t know until his obituary today that before he died, Oliver Sacks ended decades of celibacy and had a serious relationship with another writer. I’m so glad he did, but when I read his essay back in February, I still thought of him as an isolate and that was part of the comfort I found there. He spoke of clarity, audacity, plain speech. He spoke of love and work. He spoke of the death of contemporaries, the chipping away of self. He had floated above his life enough to see that everything was connected. He said he was afraid of dying but more than that, he was grateful.

I had these nightmares as a kid that certain and painful death is a few minutes away. I’m with my mother and my sister, and we are trapped. We’ve run, we’ve struggled, we’ve hidden—we’ve tried everything. Now we’re just going to die, and we fully realize it. We know that it will be slow enough so that we will have to watch each other die. We wish we had cyanide capsules but we don’t. There are only a couple of minutes before it begins. Then a couple minutes after that it will be over. We look at each other’s faces and huddle together. Then I feel billowing, exploding love for my mother and sister—I’m surrounded by thick, anesthetizing love. I see it reflecting back at me from them, and it multiplies and swells and echoes between us. We’re still going to die, the fear is still there—but the love is just more important.

I’ve been trying to climb out of a hole all year. It’s hard to keep your mojo sometimes. Meaninglessness gets more biting, and you just want to lie down and let entropy do its thing. I always think of the Virginia Woolf line, “It’s not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it’s the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.” When I remember that everyday life is the horror, sometimes I can invoke the antidote I found in my nightmare. Love—in whatever form you can muster it.

Oliver Sacks died today. Time to get back to work.

Clean Sheets

(Just a little something written years ago under a pen name in Brooklyn)

Mom took us on a little trip, just to get us off the island before summer vacation ended. Dad couldn’t go. He works all the time. He leaves the house before I get up and sometimes doesn’t come home until after I go to bed. When he’s home we have to be quiet, so we don’t bother him, because he’s so tired and over-worked. Once he said it was killing him, and then mom told him not to say that in front of me. He sits in the living room and reads a lot. Sometimes I say, “Dad,” to tell him something and he doesn’t look up, so I say it a couple more times, but then I give up and go do something else. We are nicer to him than we are to Mom. We feel sorry for him all the time. When he gets angry he’s scary, and he might just say one loud thing, like “FUCK.” Then he’ll be quiet for the rest of the day. Mom’s a yeller, but she gets over it fast.

I felt bad that we went on a trip without Dad. He took us to the ferry dock. When the boat pulled away, we stood on-deck and waved at Dad. He waved wide and crazy with both arms. I felt so bad leaving him all alone. He didn’t just walk home like I thought he would. He ran back up the dock to the road and raced the ferry toward town. I couldn’t believe it! I never saw him move that fast before. He ran out to the end of another dock and waved some more. Mom giggled. He jumped up in the air and spread his arms wide like he was excited. I knew he was really sad, though, not happy. He just wanted to show us how much he loved us. I started to cry, partly because I hadn’t known that he loved us that much. Mostly I felt guilty and worried about him being alone.

I cried for a long time in my bunk. Mom said, “It’s okay, honey—he’ll be fine.” Then after awhile she said, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP CRYING.” And then my brother said, “Yeah—shut up.” Then my mom yelled at him not to tell me to shut up. The rocking boat and the crying made me tired, so I fell asleep.

We had fun on our trip! We stayed in a bed and breakfast that used to be a whorehouse, and we saw things we don’t see at home—like horses and a train. Mom let us have Belgian waffles for breakfast. I sent a postcard to my best friend. We saw some rainbow pencils in a store, so I got some of those for when school starts again.

When we got home Dad was in a quiet mood. I expected him to be really happy to see us—I know I was glad to see him! I still felt guilty, so I tried to make it sound like we only had an okay time. He didn’t look as happy as he did when we were leaving. I figured he was jealous.

We took our bags upstairs and Mom said to Dad, “Wow, you changed the sheets. Why did you do that?” I looked at Dad. He doesn’t normally wash things. He shrugged and smiled a little bit. He didn’t say why he changed the sheets. Mom started talking about something else.

I went in my room and put my backpack on my own bed. I had to lie down for a few minutes because my stomach felt bad all of a sudden, like the time at Christmas when I overdid it on eggnog then threw up on the linoleum. I got my new pencils out and fiddled with them and thought about coloring on the wall a little bit, which I was too old for. I wasn’t sure if fifth grade was going to be okay or not.

ART OF CARING: Soulumination

This article I wrote recently means a lot to me. It’s about volunteer photographers who do family portraiture when a child is very sick. Finding ways to show life and love, and not shying away from death– these people have my heart. The piece appeared in a trade publication for health care professionals who work in hospice and palliative care.

I don’t have a very high quality link, but here is an image of the article that I posted on one of my tumblrs:

Article in Fall 2014 Art of Caring feature