Broken clouds

Charlotte starts therapy today at the same time as Lily, which means by late afternoon the three of us will each be talking to different counselors in separate rooms, with Dawn waiting in the lobby with her book.

It’s afternoon already in Germany, and Eberhard is coming to take my mom to an airport hotel in Frankfurt where they’ll probably make a mini vacation out of it, overdoing it a bit, sending me bad photos later. In the morning mom will get on a plane for Seattle and land by noon, and I’ll get her at SeaTac then go to a bar in Issaquah where we’ll celebrate the start of our visit, and try to stay up as late as she can, probably 7.

My work contract now ends in July, and because we have family trips planned for August that means the soonest I’ll start work again is September. I’ll go to Las Vegas for a conference in a couple weeks and again, in July—likely the last times this summer I’ll need pressed shirts.

Outside, the cottonwood blooms have stopped and for the past couple weeks I’d sit out with my beer watching them fall, dubbing it ‘springtime snow.’ I tried to write a poem about the pattern they make going across the sun, linking it to a number of seemingly random pursuits (like blogging, or life) but it didn’t pan out.

The house to the east of us was vacant for four years, sold to auction with the intent of a tear-down followed by three new houses, but that didn’t pan out either, so the owners have finally resigned themselves to moving in to the existing house, and now they park their cars out back on the grass.

The grass had gotten so high that one day I spied an adult deer bedding down in it at dusk, and tried to capture the way she folded her legs in on herself and settled in, how the filtered sun through the trees made her face look calm and glow in the golden light. I wanted to feel that way, too.

A low is setting up shop off the coast from Alaska and we need to close the windows at night, or it will get cold. The fox glove are in full bloom and I’m starting to sleep in until 6. The other house to the north appears vacant now, a rental, so we worry what will come of the new residents.

We stopped our lawn service but extended them by one month, agreeing to pay cash vs. doing a contract and got the tractor serviced, followed by the generator, for fall.

Now I sit with my back to the large pine between our house and the new neighbors, the tree we’ll need to take out because it’s making the concrete patio buckle, disturbing the balance of the hot tub. And because we don’t have a fence between us and the neighbors I now have to be discreet about my manly habits: the belching, bottle-throwing, peeing on the shrubs or the side of the shed. All our excess. All our phones, tablets, apps, and counselors…and how badly I just want to head out to the woods and forget.

 

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Stopping to pay the toll on the road to self

At times there seemed to be so much beauty I couldn’t convey it, and at other times it evaded me for weeks or for months, for what seemed like forever. I sensed a link between my seeing the beauty and feeling inspired to write, and a form of depression that either prevented me from seeing it or became the only output when I could not.

There was the pattern of wrinkles on my skin that had changed where my thumbs bent. The sound of birds singing mixed with a jazz trumpet near dusk, and the calm of knowing I didn’t need to be anywhere. The ticking of an old clock, or the taste of grilled chicken. The smell of charcoals when they catch and the sense the grass would stay green for weeks, then the knowledge that even after it goes brown, it would green up again when the rains return come fall.

That all this around us will continue well beyond us, and maybe we will, too. That we might be relieved of this round of living with another go. That most things you can just burn and return to the ground, and in most cases it’s good for the soil. That one night out of the month the sky is devoid of any moon, but only 30 days later it’s full again. That kids leave the house one day (in theory) and return, if only to do the laundry or for holidays or to impress their friends. That no matter how bad we fuck over nature it seems to come back again if only we get out of the way and let it be.

I had the sense that something was wrong with me, and had been for a long time, but when I wrote and relaxed into the world the world relaxed into me and I was spared of myself, had even elevated to more of myself, to something more than what I could have imagined, as more a rendering than a physical form. An abstraction, that’s often more appealing than the actual account. The hope and belief in a soul that endures us well beyond us, that you could call self, that requires some paying attention to notice, and perhaps the occasional toll.

 

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Moss petting in Portland

I went back to Portland, and it was the same as it always was. We got behind the quadriplegic at the neighborhood wine take out and the clerk put her bottles on the back of her buggy in a basket with a fake daisy. In the mornings we took the cloudy walk through the nearby park looking for the barred owl. She had a nest in a dead tree with a bunch of young. Loren looked up spirit guides to see what the owl meant, and it was a sign of breaking old habits, of finding new paths. But the owl was nowhere to be seen. Because Loren’s brother was up from San Francisco we went to the strip bar, this time The Devil’s Point, on Foster. They said if you sit at the stage you have to tip. I had no cash but agreed to buy drinks. Loren and Alan dropped ones at the end of each song and the dancers scooped them up and traded them in for bigger bills and then people asked for singles which the bartender traded for 20’s, and it all just recirculated like that. When I returned to our table one of the dancers was sitting in Alan’s seat, right next to me. She asked me for my name! We made small talk but I couldn’t hear her so well I explained, it was my bad ear. I had to lean in. Her name was Trixie, but even she didn’t believe it. There wasn’t so much to talk about. I had to struggle for topics, and was supportive without being weird, that was my goal. I’m new to strip bars and didn’t understand she was trying to get me to buy a lap dance (I thought she just wanted to talk). I asked what year she was born but she didn’t answer, I guess that was a Forbidden Topic. She said well, I have to freshen up now. “Freshen up,” I thought! On the street we decided we had one more stop, still. There was room for us all at the bar so I got down on the floor and did 40 push-ups. I normally do 50, but all I had in me was 40. One of the servers came around the corner and almost tripped over me, I could see his sneakers but held my ground, and didn’t flinch.

Loren and I fell asleep on the couch to ambient records and low light. I brushed my teeth and put my night guard in, caught myself in the mirror and thought man, you look pathetic. In the morning we walked down to the park and this time the owls were out, two of them. People were starting to gather with their cameras and kids and dogs, pointing. The owls liked it, they knew they were on camera. One kept eyeing me with its dark sockets, and I stared at it so long that when I closed my eyes, I still saw its face.

It was a good three-hour drive home, through the clouds and rain. I thought, if I live to be the same age as my father-in-law or step-dad, that means I’ve only got about 20 more Christmases in me. But I was going home, and glad. I stopped at a McDonalds for a Big Mac but it was hard to eat with one hand, and only made me hungrier when I was done. At home it was raining and felt like stew weather, so I made a beef carbonnade with Belgian beer and turned the heat on. Sometimes it felt like I’d lived forever. Like there was so much already, why did I need more?

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Hello and goodbye

Everyone wanted to know how my hypnotherapy session went, including me. It took a while to relax because I’d hurried there from work and had to rub my eyes to make the GANTT charts go away. But when the meditation music started and we dimmed the lights, after I’d taken my shoes off and put my feet up, my body faded to nothing, leaving only my lips.

I thought about recording it on my phone in case I couldn’t remember what I said but none of that is true, you’re aware the whole time. I went back to the apartment where I grew up and imagined the hallway leading to my bedroom. I tried to picture a younger version of myself guiding me there but it was hard, imagining your inner child. Mine was a version I’d seen in pictures, and I did my best to animate him. More important were the feelings emanating in that scene: my counselor was trying to help me re-wire what went wrong.

I didn’t want to leave, though it was abstract and strange. I just hadn’t relaxed like that in a while. I brought the younger version of me back home, and let him wander around the yard. And then I couldn’t help co-mingling him with our kids and tried to introduce them, but soon it was time to go, my session was up.

When I left I couldn’t find my phone; I checked both pockets, my jacket, and thought I’d left it inside—but it was right there in my hand. And when I got home I just sat on the sofa while Dawn warmed dinner, feeling like I’d just traveled through time, feeling charmed.

I’d gone back to my old office earlier in the day too, the first time since January, and like going back to a childhood place, everything seemed smaller. I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore, and left through the back door.

These blog posts are a form of hello and goodbye too, looking back on my life from different points in time, the same as a photo or an old place you knew, what small parts of yourself still remain true.

 

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Plumbing

Even though they had holes in them, I kept wearing the same socks. I walked the back yard in my socks when it wasn’t wet. Charlotte was up at the trampoline and I went back up to apologize for what I said, but she ignored me. I made her give me her phone, I thought she’d throw it at me. I watched myself walking away and didn’t like the look.

Dawn and Lily left for Disneyland on Saturday, leaving me and Charlotte home alone for four days. We played the board game Sorry for the first time in forever, went to Starbucks three days in a row, played some badminton on the sports court, watched Bob Ross before going to bed.

In the mornings before she got up I walked to the lake with my coffee, early enough the sky was still pink and no one was out. Even though it was spring, I didn’t feel the mood boost like I hoped. I felt little joy from work and wasn’t writing like I used to, or getting any exercise. Pretty soon we were going to have to start cutting our own grass too, down to one income. All Charlotte wanted to talk about was which iPhone she’d get come September. That, and the air pods. I told her to leave it downstairs before she went to bed but found it in the morning by her side, plugged in. That was a lot of the problem with Lily we thought, not getting enough rest. Too much stimulation from the phone, and the isolating impact over time. The fact that we really need human connection and the phone just isn’t that.

On Sunday I tried to nap in the hammock but couldn’t from all the coffee, so I decided to tackle the kitchen faucet. It would need replaced. There were so many options to pick from, I really just wanted the EZ install. But then I learned I needed plumber’s putty to set the base, and had to go back. I tried using one of Charlotte’s play putty things but thought better of it. I didn’t know anything about plumber’s putty (like, could you touch it with your bare hands), but I just stuffed a bunch in and it worked, it formed a seal. And thought about the connection I had with Charlotte, and why it was important to set that in place right, too.

 

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That last Friday in April

Dawn quit her job so she could spend more time with the kids, and that meant her office was up for grabs. Dawn’s office is kind of ideal, with good morning light flanked by book shelves, and a door that locks. I tried the office for a couple days but decided to stick with mine because I like to nap between meetings, and my office is in the bedroom. I’ll work in bursts and then doze for 10-20 minutes with my phone next to me to monitor email and pop up as needed, maintaining the illusion I’m an always-on automaton.

Charlotte’s cyclic face tics have evolved into one with her eyes now, where she’ll flick them upwards repeatedly and then look disgusted or disparaging, a look that’s 100% convincing. We start family therapy this weekend.

The cat did kill the baby rabbit I tried to rescue on Easter, but left the head on. It’s on its side by the chicken coup, a scene that would have troubled me in the past but now seems normal.

The engine light came on in my car again and the whole thing kind of shakes like I’m driving on a bumpy road even when I’m not.

I built a fire and sat drinking beer as the day dropped out and the birds started up, and played Fela Kuti on my wireless speaker.

And I went back and forth on my job, feeling at times confident and others, threatened, secretly feeling fine if it all came to an end and I had the summer off, and all four of us could be together…which would be fun perhaps for about a week.

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The first death

The dog’s warm tongue on my cheek, the den by the window where the sun comes in to expose the hair on my carpet, the dust on the lamps, the dirt on my legs from the morning’s hike. Going up Cougar Mountain this Easter, I remembered that time as a kid the three of us took a blanket and a basket and ate hard-boiled eggs in the park, it was warm then too. One of my favorite memories of youth, me and my parents. That same year a friend of mine had just died, he was only in the fourth grade, and my dad came in to deliver the news…the tenderness with which he went about it. Then the look of my friend’s empty desk in the center of the classroom, the rest of the year. No one would go near it, as if it were cursed, but one time I lifted the lid to see if his marbles were still there, I’d take them if they were. Remembering his name, Michael Krausley, 30 years later. We were at a theater performance of Peter Pan, and after the play they had a treasure hunt for the kids: see what artifacts you can find from the set, displayed around the theatre. One, a replica of the desk from Wendy’s dead brother: it looked just like Michael Krausley’s desk, small and sad, scaled to the size of a boy. And I remembered back to the creek that flowed near the school, the pond that froze over, Michael’s brown hair and freckles, his almost-mustache starting, too young.

We all die twice: once, when our physical body leaves and again, the last time our name is spoken. The memory of Michael was nested inside a memory of a time with my parents that felt like one of our best. It was just a simple day: no Disneyland, no amusement park, just a walk across the road with a picnic basket and some sun. Life and death co-exist like that, each feeling more real than the other at different times in our lives. Different phases of the moon, depending on which side you see. Always circling round.

Our cat got a baby bunny by the neck and carried it down to the patio, to finish it off. On Easter! I made her drop it, then threw her inside the house so the bunny could run off. Maybe it would recall the day it nearly died and tell the story, and I could be its savior. Or more likely, it wouldn’t remember. Maybe the first death actually happens before the body leaves, and we don’t even notice.

 

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