Greetings from the south of France!
The view from here:
Last year one of Ana’s rejected bad boys informed me that I think too much. Of course I was too backwards to understand what he meant by that comment, but I figured it out later!
His point was fundamentally true, but someone else very emphatically pointed out that truth was about to kick my ass. Why so much wisdom from licentious boys? It was all part of the research, of course! I wouldn’t have notes to refer to if I’d actually been participating in the debauchery.
I’ve come back to the same hotel, same beaches, same restaurants that I visited in January – when I was horribly sad and organizing my thoughts on a few critical subjects. In the intervening five months I’ve sorted all of the problems worrying me over the winter, only to find that solving riddles leads to more questions (this is a lesson I learn all the time).
Right now I am tremendously happy, though I can’t decide if everything has changed or if nothing has changed whatsoever. This, however, feels like equilibrium. My life is never predictable.
Except that I’m punctual to a fault.
Earlier this evening Gordon called to say I know that neither of us is the sort who talks about dreams, but I had a dream about you….
It was, in fact, quite disturbing – and all about authorial responsibility! Cool!
Later I was trudging about preparing for a holiday and the weather drove me into the place locals refer to fondly as the breakup bar.
Though, technically, it is a pub – and one I would never normally frequent. Some pics to also answer the Gordon challenge of photographic evidence of drinking:
Me, completely soaked:
Update on the black swan: still no babies! We walk or cycle out every single day and the meadow is quite lush now…. but hatching has not commenced! As my son points out, that must be one bored lady:
Last night I was cycling around admiring the charming elements of this old town when my agent texted to express concern over all of the difficult stuff that has happened in my life lately.
It has been quite hard, and I am still woefully sad about my aunt, but the truth is that my life is sorted at the moment. I feel fundamentally, as I keep telling Rachel, awesome.
I parked my bike in the meadow next to the Mill and texted back an account of the various antics of the people nearest me.
Susan replied Ha! Very decent of them to provide you with so much material!
I answered that one of the characters wants me to write a mainstream novel that can be optioned, so his adventures show up on the big screen.
She said What makes him think you’re going to drag yourself away from holidaying to write another book?
I laughed and texted back Technically I wrote two this year, I just threw them away!
She shook a virtual fist in my direction. I responded Well, you don’t want me to publish BAD books, right?
I’m sure she sighed before texting No. But I’ve only got your word that they were bad.
What more could she possibly need?
This morning I’m listening to ABBA and eating chocolate for breakfast. Life is good.
Happy birthday to Amy Joy!
It is hard to believe so many years have passed since the day we met at the All-Girl barbecue in North Portland. She was sitting on the floor cutting out paper dolls and we talked for perhaps ten minutes before I said Hey! I have an idea – I need child care – would you like a job? If so, can I say that you are my nanny?!
Before she started hanging out in my ramshackle house ten hours per week I had never, ever let anyone else watch the kids. Obviously, she is pretty awesome.
So many things have changed – who could have predicted that we would separately end up wandering so far from home?
My offspring have almost (but not quite) forgiven her for falling in love with Dishwasher Pete and running away into the sunset. It only took, what, six years?
Recently Byron said I want to go back to Chimayo.
Images from that trip flickered through my mind: the long drive from Denver to Santa Fe in a borrowed car that kept breaking down. Lunch in a roadside diner with locals glaring at us. Watching lightning storms crackle across the desert.
I remember sitting in a graveyard on a bluff talking to Marisa. Wandering around ghost towns. Another long ride to Taos, and the One Railroad Circus on stage performing – dazzling in every possible way.
Then the journey to Chimayo, talking about the Penitentes; we were both on a pilgrimage of sorts, looking for solace and relief from serious problems that could not be addressed in any way that either of us could figure out.
That day I offered my tribute, took a small amount of soil from the chapel, and wore it in a silver necklace for years, until I was in fact healed. Not by the trip or the chapel, not through the intervention of medical science, not from the presence of good friends, not through love or longing or anything at all except the simple determination to get better. To feel something. To live.
When I left Seattle the necklace joined the other objects in my scientific cabinet: just another trinket, another article of proof, jumbled in with old spectacles and my grandmother’s mismatched porcelain cups. Now I can’t even remember what it felt like around my neck. I can’t imagine wearing any jewelry at all.
I might go back to Chimayo some day, but I will not go for the sake of nostalgia or because I am looking for something that is gone forever. I may be able to see the circus again – and if so I will be endlessly thankful – but the experience will be unique and whole unto itself. It is likely that I will see Marisa soon, but I have a true understanding of mortality and never place faith in an uncertain future. I know that it is more important to enjoy her when we are together than count on anything else.
There are other people I care about and will never see again – because they hate me, or love me in an inconvenient way, or we’ve lost track of each other, or they died. This makes me sadder than I could ever describe, no matter the reason for the separation.
I fling myself into all manner of chaos, hang out with impetuous people, go on thrilling adventures, have the opportunity to move around the world whenever I like. I’ve also made promises and accepted responsibilities that leave me flayed and open to equal measures of grief and joy.
I’m not afraid of death, loss, risk. I simply appreciate whatever I can to the best of my limited ability, and remain fully aware that each moment will contain something new and true and unpredictable.
There was a time when I thought that I had a home somewhere in the world, and also a time when I thought that I didn’t belong anywhere. Now I know that I don’t need a home, and the objects in my cabinet truly are just artifacts.
Life is a series of choices, not just of actions but also of attitudes. I do not regret anything, even though I am currently experiencing intense pain and confusion. Like Byron noted in the course of the conversation: Good thing to know rather than be told.
Precisely five years ago I decided to leave Portland, abandoning a life that was truly delightful. I walked away from the best friends I’ve ever had, the Chorus, an extended and rewarding community, the only home I’ve ever known.
Four years ago I owned a beautiful house in Seattle with a view of the mountains and my entire life was sorted for the first time ever. But the only thing on my mind was the fact that a beloved relative was in a coma, near death. I understood for the first time that material security does not equate to safety.
Three years ago I impulsively decided to emigrate and I was in England looking for a place to live. Wandering next to the river on a brilliant sunny day I caught my first glimpse of a narrowboat and thought – I want that.
Two years ago I was in New York to do a reading at the National Arts Club and I stood on a corner across from Union Square, crying down a payphone because someone betrayed me in a way I never knew possible.
One year ago I had a meeting with my UK publisher and my agent took me to tea at the Savoy and I was amazed and confused to find myself there, in that moment, laughing.
Today I sat in the sun watching a lady swan sauntering about with three babies on her back, six more paddling madly to keep up, thinking about my aunt and a lost family and a series of secrets that will change my life once again.
I don’t really understand why this week in May is so significant – perhaps it is just the fact that it is spring. Summer is nearly here.
Recently one of my friends sent a message that read in part post traumatic stress….. can be convenient!
This is a perspective I find true, hilarious, and quite tiresome. I can cope with all sorts of huge stuff without wincing, complaining, or – depending on the specifics – even noticing that I was supposed to be upset. It is in fact much harder for me to process and deal with information that other people would point out is good news.
Today I was reading a novel about boxing and encountered the concept of being overtrained – pushing a body too far in too short a period of time, leading to listless disinterest instead of peak performance.
This spring has featured what feels like an endless cacophonous parade of information and experiences that have been mostly wonderful, several that have been overwhelming and confusing, and a few that have been intensely traumatic. As of this week my brain feels overtrained.
Because it is easier to think about small things I keep forgetting why I feel so crummy, and have to remind myself that losing close family members is in fact sufficient reason to be grief-stricken. It is not necessary to mix that up with anything else.
I don’t watch television, listen to the radio, or read any section of the newspaper except that shiny magazine bit on Saturdays. In fact, the only current news I follow is celebrity gossip. This isn’t to say I am not paying attention – I read books, and hang out with people who are experts on all manner of subjects.
My aversion to news has more to do with an essential understanding of how stories are manipulated for public consumption; once you’ve been misquoted in the press it is hard to believe almost anything that you read.
Beyond that, my life has given me sufficient understanding of risk and danger. I don’t need to clutter my brain with any new or abstruse fears – I have enough real and immediate stuff to worry about!
Byron and I haven’t been in the same country longer than twenty-four hours or so in something like, I don’t know, two months? He made the great mistake of arriving home as certain young people of our acquaintance were setting off on a trip to London (more on that later) and we both got dragged along.
It was fascinating and quite hilarious to catch up on the assorted adventures of the spring. I reported my final analysis of the flirting research, listing the people I actually noticed have had a crush on me.
Byron sighed and said All of those people may as well have tattoos that say ‘Bee I wanna do you!’
When I pulled out my notebook he groaned and said Hanging out with writers is dangerous!
I pulled the cap off my pen and replied Yes – we’re sinister creatures.
I will admit I’m obtuse about many aspects of life – but it seems my cluelessness only extends to my own self; I have very good intuition about situations I observe so long as I’m not a participant.
This would be one manifestation of what someone recently called the prosecutorial element of my character. Upon hearing that story, Byron was quite amazed and said Wow – someone agrees with me finally! We should start a union! Write a monthly newsletter!
He clapped his hands over his ears and refused to listen to other stories that reflect other, more entertaining elements of my personality. Byron is great fun to have around!
Today I was walking through a swarming crowd thinking deep thoughts about secrets and sorrow. The crowd was presumably what threw off my early warning system, because I nearly missed the fact that two very scary dudes were robbing me.
When I sensed the danger I turned and looked at the person touching my shit. He threw both hands in the air, mumbling an apology before racing away.
His friend did not correctly interpret the threat I represent and kinda got in my face. For which he received the full force of my bike crashing into his midsection. Hard enough to send him sprawling across the pavement.
This all happened so fast I had no thoughts whatsoever. The adrenaline and panic didn’t catch up with me until later, after I’d locked my bike and was about to check the mail.
Weirdly my instinct was to call someone. Of course that freaked me out more than the incident itself had.
This business of having feelings is very creepy.
Not to mention the fact that scary dudes should know better. Just by looking at me.
Last night Byron texted from an unknown airport and said Oh man. CRUSHING and sudden grief about Mary dying. Tears! Tears!!
I haven’t cried yet, but that might have something to do with the fact that it was an event I have been anticipating my entire life. The hard part isn’t the fact that she died, or how she died, but instead the notion that she isn’t around any longer.
I am horribly sad but continue to make plans, work, cook dinner, stare at my emotions as they flicker on and off.
In my journal I wrote: Mary died. Mary is dead. Which phrase looks more accurate?
I’ve always missed her, the real her, the best and most amazing Mary, my startling and hilarious and beloved aunt. That feeling will never be resolved.
I spent the day wandering in a state of grief, which is interesting since I never used to have appropriate and timely emotions. When the time difference allowed I finally got ahold of my mother, working somewhere in DC.
I asked if I should try to find a flight back and she replied No. There is no reason to come home.
Seven siblings, all gone except my mother. I have no aunts or uncles. How many cousins are left? Hardly any. I grew up in a huge family, now decimated. This is bewildering.
We talked for awhile and then I said I’m sorry.
She said There is nothing to be sorry about.
I replied It all sucks.
My mother said Yeah, it all sucks. She would have been 49 on the 31st of this month. I knew she would never see fifty.
This morning I woke to the news that my aunt died.
R.I.P Mary: daughter, sister, mother, friend.
Yesterday Rachel called to report that my book is in the front, “recommended and new” section of Borders.
Today I checked and yeah, it is true….. I’m a few titles down from Kerry Katona!
This was of course way too strange so I marched off to check on the swans. They hatched while I stood there staring in amazement. It was so cool!
Today I went to the fun fair and nurtured a vague fantasy about becoming a carny – I’ve always wanted to have a proper job!
Plus I did something entirely out of character and astonishing: I rode the bumper cars. First time since my head was smashed up nineteen years ago – and I had so much fun!
Jeffrey wrote to ask if I knew someone who grew up on the peninsula and I replied:
Nobody with that name grew up in my part of the county when I was there! That is a north county / Bainbridge Island name, someone way younger, or made up as an adult…..
Guess what? I was right – the girl in question is ten years younger and from Bainbridge. Funny how names can say so much about a person.
One recent friend was convinced that my name was secretly something normal like Sally Smith. If only! I’ve always wanted to be more ordinary than a Lavender! Nobody in the entire clan has ever professed to like the name.
The conversation turned to an inquiry about how life is treating me lately and I said I’m awesome! Everything is confusing but I have new glasses so hey! No problem!
Jeffrey answered New glasses. New perspective. You are so damn metaphorical!
Unfortunately he is correct. I need to work on that.
I met the always delightful Stevie Ann for lunch in the East Village, during which she teased me in a comprehensive and knowledgeable fashion.
Her observations and questions were, as always, way too insightful. I spent a large part of the meal with my face down on the table, laughing helplessly and only surfacing to inquire Is this how real grown-ups talk??
She replied I’m just prompting because you don’t know how to play!
Over the course of the afternoon we walked around in the sunshine catching up on all of the news and gossip that has accumulated in the five or six months since our last visit, then stopped at a flea market.
My lucky dress had by then nearly died – the back seam featuring a rip of about eight inches – but I found a vintage dress with tags still on. We both bought new outfits, then changed on the sidewalk in front of the Boys Club (yes, my driving need for modesty is erratic and irrational – I am much more likely to be found half naked on a city sidewalk…. than in my own home).
It is a tremendous honor that Stevie asked me to be her date to the reunion, and took me along to her father’s celebratory birthday dinner. I bought her first legal drink, we’ve been on tour together, performed together, remained close across years, great distances, real and brutal trauma.
Stevie is the only friend who has ever spent the night at my aunt’s house, and one of the very few who has extracted an admission of love from my reticent self. I’m so lucky to know her:
I had only a limited amount of time in NY to accomplish a vast number of tasks.
The most critical was of course my annual pilgrimage to Fabulous Fanny’s to acquire not one but two new pairs of spectacles before dashing off to Chinatown, where people are willing to fill outdated and incorrect prescriptions! Nobody else panders to my desire to pretend that my vision is worse than it actually is: I love NYC.
KTS and Alison let me crash in their new place, which is so vast I hardly believed I was still in one of the boroughs. They were talking about installing either a greenhouse or a forest in some of the unused space – I am constitutionally incapable of jealousy (and love my boat) but I definitely felt flickers of envy over the wood floors and extra bathrooms!
At some point KTS commented on his new job, new wife, new home I don’t know why I’m saying this – but – I’m happy with the way things have turned out.
This was quite an admission from the most sarcastic person I’ve ever met; I’m so pleased that we are friends again, and that his life is trundling along in a manner he enjoys.
One afternoon I was wandering near Union Square and stopped at a shoe store, randomly stumbling across KTS purchasing sneakers. I laughed and laughed as he complained that nobody wants him to be their muse.
We retired to a dive bar (because, as I pointed out, we never went out drinking together at 4:30 in our actual youth – oh, to be back at the Brotherhood in 1992!) where drunk working class women kept stroking my hair as they passed on their way to mysterious errands in an absolutely filthy restroom.
In the nineteen years of our acquaintance I’ve always been strictly truthful but there are assorted topics that we’ve never discussed – to the extent I was not even aware of his first attempt at matrimony. He certainly has no idea (still) of who was sleeping with who in the circus of my student life. This means we have lots of interesting new things to talk about even though we’ve known each other forever – a bonus!
Over the course of an entirely too brief visit and a few scattered meals with Alison we chattered away about life, love, and literature. I interrogated Karl about why he has retained certain friendships and he shrugged and said They’re legacies, about history, not the present.
I’m endlessly thankful that he exercises this prerogative – otherwise, would we still know each other? I doubt it, and he is one of my favorite people ever:
Love hears, love knows, love answers across the silent miles and goes. — W.H. Auden
Ten minutes before boarding a flight to NYC I decided to text most of my UK friends to reveal a secret I feel gleeful about. I was quite surprised that most of the people who read the message were shocked and concerned – the story isn’t exactly news, even if my inclination to talk about the subject might be. I reassured everyone of my inherent buoyancy (and the fact that I would never share bad news) then dashed away!
My long-standing policy of ignoring strangers on airplanes was challenged immediately, when I realized that the person next to me was reading through a binder full of what appeared to be lady porn featuring titles like The Shaman and characters named Graywolf.
I was tempted to inquire if she was a fan or an editor but resolutely turned toward the movie screen, where I caught the first bit of Stranger than Fiction before the channel cut out, leaving me without any clue of how the movie ends or what the narrative might have been suggesting. This was unfortunate since I thought the bits I watched quite funny, including the question posed by one character (paraphrasing): Who in their right frame of mind given the choice between pancakes and being alive chooses pancakes?
Hmm. Well, me! Except of course I don’t like pancakes. But swap other temptations in, and you’ve summed up not only my fundamental world view but also the theme of the whole trip.
All of my normal places to stay in NYC fell through but Margaret graciously offered to host me in her studio on the Lower East Side. We met up for an Ethiopian dinner and chattered away about body image and love. At one point she said If you have a hunchback you can just throw a little glitter on it, you know? We all have problems. Everyone has been there.
Over drinks at a hipster bar she told me a long and hilarious tale of going to the desert alone, where she was pursued by strange creatures before laying down in the sand convinced she would die. Then it was back to her haunted bachelorette pad, where I crashed in a deep jetlagged sleep.
In the morning I thanked her fervently for the hospitality and then wandered around the neighborhood a bit, completely amazed by how friendly everyone in the states appears compared to the way people act in England. Beyond that, NYC has always felt comfortable, like a home I want to find, even when the city is at its most challenging.
During the long train ride through working class New Jersey towns I stared out the window, feeling homesick and thinking about the fact that my passport was issued in 2000 and at that point I was so paranoid about travel the experience was almost unbearable.
Now I like the uncertain, in-between moments best of all – a remarkable change in such a short period of time.
I had a couple of free hours before anyone showed up, and settled in the room before venturing out to the boardwalk to admire the ruined buildings:
Several weeks of visitors and interviews had rendered me somewhat unfit for human companionship; my voice was almost entirely gone by the time I found my oldest friend after several years separation. He said It’s nice to see you, Bee.
I replied It’s nice to see you, James, even if I’m dying!
His answer was swift: Well that’s nothing new. I don’t know what you’re complaining about!
We laughed and talked and caught up on sundry issues, and a few hours after meeting he even remembered to ask after the children. One of whom is named after him.
It seemed prudent to scope out how long it would take to get to the wedding venue, and we found that it was only a three minute walk:
Then we wandered around, admiring more of what Asbury Park has on offer:
Later we caught up with the happy couple at Jess’ family home, including a crew of British people. I forced myself to tell the truth about my work; this was difficult but I persevered and quite enjoyed the conversations, particularly with an anesthetist who listened to me laughing, cocked his head, and informed me that I have asthma.
I protested but he commented The fact that you haven’t been diagnosed doesn’t mean you don’t have it. Stop laughing!
After the party seven or eight of us crammed into a taxi meant for four, James wedged across our laps narrating what he saw in the night sky. Does this sound completely out of character for yours truly to put up with? Why yes, yes it does!
We were collectively surprised to learn that our hotel is semi-officially queer and features a gay bar the likes of which it is hard to find outside the confines of small-town America.
Standing around watching a drag show of varying quality we laughed and applauded the good bits and winced over the bad. At one point I commented It fits somewhere in critical theory but nowhere I want to go!
Stephen replied Not with that dress on! and I nearly spit out my drink.
The next day James and I wandered all over town and rested for awhile to prepare for the antics of the evening. I talked to Anna Ruby on the telephone briefly, then Stevie called and left a message that she would be in NY to attend her high school reunion and that I should go with her because The way I see things, you kinda owe me!
What can I say about the wedding? Every last bit of the event was wonderful, in every possible detail, including the posters friends made:
Not to mention the vows, the blessing, the Ketubah, the gathering statement by Stephen including an Auden quote that made me cry.
And, of course, we danced:
The Luminescent Orchestrii played and we all toasted the happy couple, eating food, talking, bowling:
Friends new and old celebrated and had a fantastic time:
A family friend named Pearl offered the toast Nobody worked harder for happiness than Jess.
This is true. I wish both her and Brian every possible wish as they move forward through life.