Yesterday I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art wrangling paper bags bursting with dirty laundry and trying to control my hair and skirt, both of which were sailing skyward in the wind, when a black stretch limo pulled up in front of me.
The driver was eating a sandwich and he rolled down the window and shouted Are you waiting for a taxi?
Back in Seattle! Which always includes adventuring with Jeffrey:
I watched the Infernal Noise Brigade play in front of the Comet at two in the morning, letting the crowd shove me back and forth in time with the music. I hung out with Mark Mitchell at the Bus Stop, officially my favorite new person.
I wandered through a club in a state of existential crisis until I was stopped by a librarian who recognized me from my publicity photos and smothered me with compliments – and I remembered to smile.
The kids took my mother to the zoo, where we fed budgies and visited with an excitable kookaburra who kept trying to fly through the glass to say hello:
While Portland represents everything most valuable about growing up and learning to live in a community, Seattle is the city nearest the place I was born.
The Puget Sound offers the most gorgeous landscape I have encountered anywhere in the world. We said goodbye to my mother at the ferry terminal and the sunset made me cry:
I flew to the states in time to throw a party for my daughter, who has spent the summer meandering about the states going to conferences, completing internships, and visiting friends. The fact that so many years have passed since her birth is completely baffling; the fact that she is an autonomous adult who can travel on her own is beyond my understanding. That tiny little baby has grown up into a person I admire and enjoy, with a quick and scorching wit and blazing intellect. She is funny, smart, and strong. I feel privileged to be her friend.
The party was at our old house, currently home to Gabriel and Danielle and their brood of children. It was also Gabriel’s birthday so a parade of friends new and old sauntered through the house on what was the most punishingly hot day I have ever experienced in Portland.
Trish showed up from Ohio, and Gordon from SF, along with the usual crew of beloved local characters. A neighbor provided a gift that allowed everyone to survive: a structure dubbed The Mistery.
The visit was short, only three days, and packed to bursting with visits to the zoo and OMSI and the other childhood haunts of my son, who reverted to his standard Portland uniform of a shirt and tie (though I vetoed the blazer given the record heat wave).
The endlessly entertaining Anna Ruby joined us for lunch:
We hung out with Sara, and visited Michelle, and I felt a pang of longing over Skanky Volvo (even though the car has not been operational in years). I bought this car with the advance from my first book:
Later we found ourselves in the yard at 19th Street, talking and laughing with Marisa, Jody, EB, AR, Stevie, Hope, and STS. To say that the visit was bittersweet would be an understatement; I miss my friends quite thoroughly even as my desire to travel grows.
After we said goodbye and walked away Stevie shouted I love you and we chorused our love back at her.
On the way out of town we drove around looking at the houses and schools that once had importance in our lives.
This morning I spent twenty minutes trying to remember the American word for pram.
It would appear that my brain is acclimating to this place. David warned me that this is the start – first you put emphasis on the wrong part of sentences, then you lose words entirely.
Too bad I will be traveling in the states all summer – it might be entertaining to pick up a slightly demented English accent!
The girl was in her mid-twenties, with short blond hair and expensive clothing of an indeterminate trendiness. She smiled and made eye contact with Byron and I watched with interest; people hit on him all the time, but rarely during a ride on the Piccadilly line.
She leaned forward and was about to say something to him when the train jolted and the can loosely clasped between her knees fell to the ground, spilling beer across the aisle separating us. She smiled, looked up at Byron through long eyelashes, and picked up the can.
Holding it with one hand, she reached in to her yellow backpack with the other, rummaged for a moment before she found a towel. Then she leaned down and wiped up the spill.
We watched in fascination as she swabbed the floor of the carriage, folded her towel, and put it away. She cocked her head and seemed about to say something but I elbowed Byron and he looked away. While it is always a good idea to make interesting new friends, there are limits. Hygiene is top of the list.
The girl pulled the towel out again and continued to clean the floor.
Highlights of the trip included fabulous food, long meandering walks, a trip to the zoo (where it is possible to rent an electric car and drive past all the exhibits, making the Barcelona zoo my favorite in the world), and ice cream in the Barri Gotic.
The best part though was visiting Ana Helena, a brilliant friend (and massage therapist, and cab driver, and performance artist, and biologist, and all-round great person). Ana is always delightful, but there is something very sweet about meeting up with friends who love Portland but live elsewhere.
In fact, I’ve found it easier to meet these friends while traveling than back home, where I am sometimes overwhelmed with longing for the past. Portland was the city where I finally grew up and found a community, but that process, while rewarding, was also tremendously painful.
The first question from people who haven’t seen me in two or three years is predictably Is that your natural hair color?
When Ana asked I had a flash of sitting with her at the yellow formica table in my periwinkle blue kitchen, pots of dye in front of us, using toothbrushes to paint random colors into our hair. The reason I stopped bleaching? I no longer lived near Stevie and couldn’t face having other people touch my head; and with that thought other memories slipped through, of all the events and performances and parties.
Ana Helena said that she decided to go home for the summer because she wants to be in a place that smells like blackberries, and I could suddenly smell the neighborhood too, just as she described, and I recalled that it was Ana’s ministrations that restored my sense of smell after more than twenty years without it. She was also the person who told me that I had to learn to feel pain, and at that recollection the damaged nerve in my right arm throbbed and twitched.
We talked about our new lives in England and Spain, and I felt a sense of wonder at the fact that two girls from Washington and Alaska made it this far. Even while laughing I felt as though I were looking down at the scene playing out in a European cafe.
Talking to Ana underscored a feeling I have that my life is a work of fiction.
During my sophomore year of high school a geography teacher gave the class an assignment to map out and describe an ideal trip. I have no idea what the others chose – Kennewick? Perhaps as far afield as Los Angeles? I wrote a detailed report about a trip to Europe, meticulously documenting imaginary adventures in England and on the continent.
When the paper came back it was marked with an A, but the teacher had scrawled comments throughout indicating that I was a fantasist, that I would never have the wherewithal or cunning to create the life I was dreaming about.
If that teacher were still alive I might write to tell him that I have achieved exactly what the paper described, and more; but then again, perhaps not. He never made it out of that town, after all.
I met Ana Helena when I was twenty-eight and convinced that the teacher was correct, that I would never move away from the Northwest, never leverage myself out of the bohemian poverty that was indistinct from the working class variety I grew up in. I lived without a thermostat, ignoring my ramshackle body, avoiding strangers. I didn’t think that I could change, or that I wanted to. Then one day I accidentally fell in with people who knew how to fix things.
Ana surely does not remember the first time we really talked, in the backyard at 19th Street while experimental films played in the house. Moe and Dwayne were there too and we were all telling wild stories and that specific moment was the first time I ever laughed without covering my face with both hands, an act that split my little world open and changed everything irrevocably.
If I had never met Ana and the others perhaps I would have ended up here anyway. But I wouldn’t be the same person.
I’m glad to have these friends, and even more happy that the relationships do not require me to be tethered to a piece of geography.
People with skin cancer are supposed to stay out of the sun, and individuals who also sport a nicely developed case of lupus are doubly warned against exposure. Beyond that, I’m clinically photosensitive: I feel like the sun is actually attacking me… oh, and I sneeze constantly if I don’t wear sunglasses!
Because of these factors it is safe to say that my skin has not been exposed to direct unmediated sunlight at all since 1983 – no matter how strong the temptation to frolic.
Preparing for even normal jaunts is a laborious process, including multiple varieties of sunblock, protective clothing, and an umbrella if those precautions do not suffice. When my remission ends (which can happen at any time – and sunlight is a major trigger), I have to wear gloves or wrap my hands in gauze. I’ve grown used to the public censure for what must appear to be very eccentric clothing choices, and people no longer comment, or at least, I don’t listen.
This does not mean that I lead a wholly indoors life – I just choose my adventures carefully, with the understanding that each excursion has the risk of kicking off a chain of unwanted medical events.
This fact is a point of sustained gloom, as I routinely turn down invitations to exciting excursions. I will never go to a festival, for instance, nor is it likely that I will visit any of the geographic region known to swelter.
Spain is just at the edge of my tolerance, because it is possible to conduct a social life in the early morning and late at night, avoiding the light in the middle of the day. I also tend to go only in the darker months of the year; a visit in June represented quite a racy risk.
My plan, as always, was to be as careful as possible… but enjoy myself at the same time. To accomplish this I often need to make concessions that would convince other people not to bother.
Yes, friends, even when visiting beaches where everyone else is naked, I go in the water fully clothed.
My bathing costume covered my body ankle to chin; I had on big sunglasses, and my face was fully made up. The plan was to take an early morning swim then retire to the hotel, but the salty waves were too tempting, and my companions too delightful, and I watched the shadows changing on the beach and knew that I was staying out far too long.
Every thirty minutes or so I applied sunblock to any exposed bits of skin, until I had used up an entire tube of the stuff and it was finally time to go.
I was astonished to find that I had been on the beach for eight hours. When I looked in a mirror I found that I had a burn on my scalp; later it became clear that my feet and ankles were similarly scorched.
I should feel fretful and guilty about this. But I don’t care; it was worth it to spend an entire day in the sea.
As the nine-year-old member of the party said while reveling in the waves: I never knew how many heights you could reach when you jump for joy.
Jeffrey postulates that the reason I am so obtuse about flirting is simple: I do not know how to accept compliments.
This is true. I was thirty years old when Ariel pointed out that furrowing my brow, or clapping both hands over my face, or ducking under the nearest table was not the best response to praise. I asked her what I should do instead. She sighed and said Smile. Say thank you.
I’ve been practicing ever since, and getting progressively better, particularly with sartorial subjects and at public events. What I can’t handle, still, is the big stuff. When something really good happens I do not jump up and down; I retire to my sickbed and moan.
When the fact that the Orion contract was real hit me — approximately two months after the sale — I was standing in the road in front of the college where Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried. I burst into tears (a rare event generally, and an absolute taboo in public) and wailed Why can’t my life be like a John Denver song?
The meaning of that sentiment is obscure even to me, but can probably be translated as Why can’t I have a simple, ordinary, normal life?
Though as far as that goes, John Denver might not be a very good role model.
One of my friends just reported her therapist says that I am a bad influence.
Presumably because I counsel: Less talk, more action!
I’m off to Barcelona. Happy Independence Day!
In case you are interested, an upcoming issue of Bitch includes an essay I wrote about porn. I was also interviewed for the Body issue of Clamor.
Of course, I don’t think that my opinions are controversial. They are simply correct.
However, that does not mean that I have made much progress on certain core research projects. Recently I was reading a book about nonverbal communication and learned that many people find the application of lipstick sexy.
I find this information puzzling; I only dimly understand that wearing red lipstick has any meaning whatsoever, and that evidence is strictly hearsay. I certainly do not paint my lips as a come hither signal – in my mind the choice is anachronistic, not seductive.
I am not happy that anyone might get an illicit thrill by watching me smear something on my lips.
Though this won’t change my behavior or anything.