This morning I asked my son if he had good dreams and he replied I never remember my dreams which is quite annoying, because our homework right now is to keep a dream journal.
I said Oh no! Maybe you can borrow some?
He answered in a resigned voice I doubt that is allowed.
This is one of the rare days I remember a dream, and it was about my aunt.
I was standing in her living room, blonde baby boy on my hip, and she was sober – this bit was historically accurate; she was clean a decade before her death. The room started filling up with people I never see because they live far away, like Jon Rietfors, and people I’ll never see again because of the choices they’ve made.
I handed the baby to my mother, who was laughing, and went from person to person, urgently trying to get their addresses and phone numbers. My aunt walked in the room and she was crying – something I personally never witnessed in real life, not after her accident, not any of the times I picked her up from jail or rehab, not when her mother died, never, not even smashed out of her mind.
Someone asked what was the matter and she said she had learned something about her boss that would force her to quit. I knew the job and sobriety were connected and tried to convince her that we could figure out a solution, but she kept crying.
Looking around the room for assistance, I noticed that more than half the crowd went to Evergreen. I held out my hand and said We can seminar the problem away!
They all laughed, at least.
Then I woke up and pulled the blanket up over my head, contemplating the alarming fact that even my subconscious is pragmatic. Though it was nice to see my aunt again.
I’ve been sorting through digital archives, and one of the things I found was covertly filmed footage of an ordinary ferry ride. I was bemused to watch myself, bedraggled in a tattered vintage dress, with pink and white striped hair, walking around with a four year old child in a suit and bow-tie.
Memories are curious; I actually do recall that day, and approximately what I was thinking about that summer. What I’d forgotten is how it felt to be so entwined with a small vulnerable human, that we could not handle being more than a few feet from each other.
The tape documents how we used to wander, touching every few minutes, aware of the other person and very little else about our surroundings.
Parenting small children is a tactile experience. Their immediate physical and mental needs are of paramount importance, to the exclusion of much else – even if you have other responsibilities or desires. This isn’t a choice, it is just part of the deal.
All babies love me (the same is true of abused dogs and lost tourists), but the only toddlers and small children I’ve ever enjoyed have been my own. Taking care of them, while sometimes difficult, has never been a chore. I have been delighted by their individual, alarming, dramatic selves at every stage of life.
I don’t just love them; I enjoy and adore them. This was of course no guarantee that the feeling would be reciprocated as they grew up. I know that lots of attentive, loving families break down, that grown-ups make their own choices. I’m not the sort to expect fealty, or filial devotion of any kind.
They owe me nothing.
It is a surprise then to have a ten year old who still wants to hang out with me. And a grown-up, fully launched daughter who invites me to go to concerts, not because she needs a ride or cash, but because she actually likes me.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to know them.
I am currently being persecuted by a vile illness: the sniffles! After I dropped my kid off I stopped to buy water and the Bacchanalia dude said Care to try some wine?
Furrowing my brow, I brilliantly replied Huh?
He said There is a wine rep – a new line – you should try it!
Oh, shivers. I don’t know how to do that!
He laughed at my stricken expression and said Go on!
-Do I have to?
-Yes. It is mandatory!
Obedient for once, I reluctantly walked to the back of the shop, where a very nice Australian man explained the differences between, um, grapes. I think. It was confusing, I’m sick, and I didn’t know where to look. Now I have officially gone to a wine tasting. With a head cold. How horrifying!
Last night I arranged to meet Josh at the Maypole – haven’t seen him since the spring, and that is a long time given that he is one of my favorite people!
When he arrived I gleefully inquired How are you?
He spread out his arms and replied I never know how to answer that.
Easy, I answered. I always say I’m awesome!
He retorted I’ve been here too long for awesome!
We were served by the bartender who winks at me, then retired to the back room to catch up. He mentioned that he flies to Seattle this week and I excitedly offered lots of tips, then realized he probably won’t enjoy hanging out at either the Bus Stop or the Crescent. I rattled off a series of stories about Seattle that are only available in person, late at night, and we laughed and laughed for hours.
I spent the better part of the last two weeks in London enjoying the peace and quiet of the borrowed flat. It has been exactly a year since Iain and Xtina loaned me their place while they were away, a fact that surprises me.
Looking back at the journal entries from that visit, I am amazed at how much has happened in twelve months, and how much has remained the same. The cataclysmic and entertaining events of the year have of course made an impact (the death of my aunt most of all); in some ways I am hardly recognizable as the same person.
But in all fundamental matters, nothing has changed. Last year I was already planning a trip back to Seattle within moments of arriving in England; this year I am making a choice between San Francisco, Montreal, or New York.
In my peregrinations I walked from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, criss-crossed central London, wandered at will through countless neighborhoods. I went to the same museums, pondered the same subjects, ate the same flavor of jellybean. I worked while simultaneously convinced that I was wasting time. I was homesick for the Puget Sound while also pleased to live so far away.
I mourned the people who have died, was perplexed by those I will not see again, felt delighted by the changing relationships with those I still choose to know.
I went out with the East London Massive, hatching a plot with Peter that will have huge consequences on my daily reality. I guided Anika around London, telling her scandalous stories and reminiscing about impoverished rural Northwest childhoods.
I successfully evaded the attentions of a stalker who wanted to party – um, no thanks.
Mostly though I elected to be alone, because the darkest part of the year is approaching. Building up a reserve of quiet solitude is not just important but critical – and these independent days in the city, walking, thinking, writing, were a true gift.
This life is a constant surprise in many ways, most of all in the generosity of dear friends. I cannot possibly thank Iain and Xtina enough for all that they have offered, and all the wonderful times still to come.
When I arrived in Cambridge I went to the post box and there was a package from Gabriel waiting for me. I was distracted by the usual flurry of arrival nonsense so my brain didn’t properly understand what I had in my hands.
When I turned the pages to the index, it felt like my heart literally stopped – it is a 1961 catalog from an exhibition titled Six Photographers. Featuring Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
In my opinion Meatyard is one of the most important practitioners of the medium in the previous century, with a body of work far superior to any of his splashy contemporaries. On a personal level he certainly influenced me more than any other artist of any description. His photographs have been vastly more meaningful to me than any book I’ve ever read. In short, Gabriel is the best ever!
It was already autumn when I flew back here in late August, though the dudes at Bacchanalia assure me that summer never happened. Now the weather has advanced from bright and crisp to cold which is very exciting – fall is the best time of year here! Except of course spring, when all the baby animals are born. Or winter, when the city is empty and misty. Or summer, when hordes of strangers descend and roll around in the parks….
I think it safe to say I enjoy the weather in England. I definitely understand why locals spend so much time talking about it!
The other day I met my agent for lunch in the West End. We haven’t seen each other since the spring and she cocked her head expectantly but I held my hand up in the Boy Scout pledge and said I swear, I’ve caused no recent scandals! I was excessively pure and innocent all summer!
After some discussion she believed my assertions, but that just opened up the conversation for an investigation about what I’ve been doing instead. Which is, well, not much!
Or at least, nothing that can be published, because I threw away the stuff I finished over the summer. This is of course exasperating to certain people, not least my literary agent, but it is also how I’ve always worked. I produce very little, very fast, with long gaps between each session.
To avoid the inevitable chastisement I hurriedly offered up the funeral story. Susan was nicely distracted throughout the rest of the meal, and we said goodbye on good terms. Hours later I received a text pointing out that my anecdote would be an excellent first chapter for a book.
Anika is opening a branch of her business in London and flew in from Seattle last night. We met at Trafalgar Square, and when asked what she might like to do, the reply was I need socks, and a haircut!
Fair enough, and honestly, this is the best kind of guest – concrete goals are easy! We set off toward Covent Garden, everyone chattering away, and both goals were accomplished easily with stops at M&S and Hair by Fairy.
It was barely noon when I asked what she wanted to do next, and her answer was predictable: Let’s get a drink!
I guided the group to the pub at Seven Dials, where we had a rollicking discussion about life in the UK, much to the consternation of Damian, who will be heading up the office. He lives in Sammamish, for goodness sake. Now that will be an epic culture shock.
Everyone would have been happy to stay there but I’m too pragmatic for such antics, and pushed the group out the door to eat lunch on Brick Lane. My stateside friends were bemused at the typically hostile service, but three years in this country has toughened me up. Menus smacked down, strange attitude, shouted complaints? Standard! The fact that the toilet was flooded? Also completely ordinary for an English restaurant.
What was not normal? The fact that the waiter, at the end of the meal, asked in a very concerned voice Was everything ok?
-Yes, I replied, amazing!
He cocked his head and said You haven’t been here in ages.
Surprised, I told him that I’ve been traveling. Who knew that the dudes at the restaurant recognize me, and care if I fail to turn up!
We wandered through Shoreditch in the sunshine chatting and laughing. At one point we were in the restroom at Vibe Bar and Anika commented in her bright western voice I think it is a fantastic plan to store the toilet paper on the floor!
As we walked out to rejoin the others she stopped in front of a vending machine that dispenses sex toys, exclaiming in shock Ten dollars for a cock ring?! That is fucking insane! How do you live here?!
Good question, really. I guess the answer is – because I can, and because I am easily amused.
I stayed in Portland an entire weekend – that is a record for me! Normally the experience is too bittersweet and I bolt, but it was Marisa’s birthday – what a temptation!
My daughter skipped the Zine Camp party which was unfortunate as it was great fun and an opportunity to catch up with Sara, Meadow, Dennis, countless others.
Six years ago I ran away from home and holed up at Gabriel’s mountain house outside of Aspen. This kid named Justin gave me a ride back to Denver, I took a shower at his parents house in another ski resort, and we talked for hours about love and life.
Who would have guessed we’d end up putting out books with the same publisher, hanging out extensively in NYC, and that later yet someone would get in touch and ask me if he would be a good person to head up the IPRC? It was awesome to see him even if only for a few minutes. Also Nicole, and Lli, and all the children who have grown so much in the five years since I left!
We went out to Sauvie Island for the birthday bash. Byron mysteriously acquired an infant and Beth chased him around the beach hollering Tall man, give me that baby!
With Stevie at the beach:
The day before I left the states I was standing on the foredeck of the Mukilteo ferry staring at the receding landscape and idly chatting about topics like Whatever happened to the Mukilteo Fairies?
Though honestly, I have no recollection of seeing them perform – my Olympia years were a blur of studying, working, testifying in assorted court cases, conducting semi-clandestine love affairs. By the time I finished grad school I was already working in government; it seems unlikely that I attended many queercore shows.
Reminiscing about those years, I asked Byron if he remembered the point where my youthful idealism had been stretched so thin by bad managers and cynical stakeholders that I developed a misguided plan to throw away the career implementing civil rights laws and join the ferry service.
He blinked in astonishment; apparently I failed to mention it to him (we weren’t especially close at the time).
Half of my family worked on the ferries, and I thought it sounded quite tempting to spend my days on the water. I only changed my mind when I realized my college degrees would make me a manager by default, and I had no intention of letting that happen ever again – let alone with the possibility of being senior to my uncles…. at age twenty-four.
Just then I turned and spied, ten feet away, the very same person I handed my resignation letter to twelve years ago!
He was not the bad manager – I had the director fired before I left, obviously.
I pointed out the coincidence to Byron and he laughed, then reminded me that nobody from Olympia would recognize me now. Why don’t you go say hello?
Baffled, I asked Why would I? What would we talk about? The fiscal mismanagement and ruinous controversies endemic to the agency?
Byron said You could catch up!
Today I went to the Hunterian to pensively stare at the skeletal remains of Caroline Crachami for awhile before I meandered off to the V&A because I’d heard a rumor of a Lee Miller retrospective.
Too early! It opens later this week – color me excited! Then as I moved to depart, wonder of wonders, what did I see in the European Galleries? A very sketchy looking man with a unicorn tattooed on his neck! This, if you may recall, was the ultimate holy grail in our Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks!
I stood there gawking, then realized he might mistake my fascination for prurient interest and scurried away before the dude could talk to me.
Lurking in the sculpture gallery I rapidly texted Ana Erotica to let her know I’d spotted her man. Maybe fate will throw them together one day! Though she has lately been trying to date Very Smart Boys, even if she doesn’t find them hot.
When I repudiated January I gave myself a different day to celebrate my birth. This is the second year running I forgot about it.
Last night I took myself out to a solitary dinner and read about the scandalous lives of poets, then watched several hours of television (quite the anomaly and treat). It was so much fun I overslept, by approximately a whole day, and had many lucid dreams involving Seattle and Portland and Cambridge and London friends all converging at the Maypole for much hilarity.
I think I even roller skated. Happy fake birthday to me!
Heather Jackson has resigned from producing Girl-Mom.com to pursue other projects. Please join me in thanking her for two years of tremendous work; the job is extremely difficult and requires a very specific kind of sensitivity and strength. I’ve been amazed and admiring of how she has collaborated with and assisted the community – and with her patience over various technical quagmires. Heather is a truly impressive woman, mother, and colleague. I wish her all the best in the future!
Last night at 2AM my phone received a call from an unknown number. I would have answered – I was awake and in a fantastic mood – but didn’t hear it as I was elsewhere. It was Gomyo ringing from Japan – now that would have been an entertaining conversation! This afternoon another unknown number called. Learning to use the telephone is so odd and intriguing; answering from a “caller id called withheld” is like buying a Grab Bag at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop!
This time it was Rachel asking for dating advice and I exclaimed Because I’m so good at that?!
We had an excellent chat as I ventured toward Jai Krishna, amazed that the day was warm and balmy. It is a custom to go there for the Iain birthday celebration, so I associate the place with brutal cold. Poor winter babies! Jody wants to come over and throw a joint birthday party, but as I pointed out, England is actually closed that week.
I glanced up from contemplating the menu and recognized the tattoo on an arm wandering by. We’ve never met in person but I would know Ally anywhere. Very much against my normal hesitant (not to mention oblivious) routine I reached out and tapped her arm and said hello. Great fun, lovely woman, expat solidarity!
My agent texted to invite me out to bear boy burlesque but with all the coincidence in the air today I decided to retire to the borrowed apartment rather than risk it. Who knows which person from my past I’d see at that show!
What advice did I give Rachel? Make yer move! Don’t process! Be a man!
Earlier today I was on the boat reading up on the history of the San Juan archipelago including the extremely fascinating Pig War (and jotting down notes on 3×5 cards – because yes, my sophomore summer is apparently transitioning to junior year AP mode) when Iain called to tell me scandalous secrets.
I have officially advanced in phone etiquette to the extent that I occasionally speak instead of just giggling – amazing! Over the course of the conversation Iain reminded me that I have access to his flat for two weeks while he and Xtina are on holiday. They are the best ever! I feel so lucky that we met – knowing them has enriched my life beyond imagining.
Right after we said goodbye my phone started ringing again, this time with an unknown number. I surprised myself by answering – and a good thing too, because it was Jody calling from Israel to tell me about photographing graffiti in Yafo and reading newspaper reports about NIN at the Wailing Wall.
I offered to introduce him to one of my assorted Tel Aviv friends and he exclaimed He might be a serial killer!
I answered I know serial killers, but he isn’t one, I swear! I would tell you!
Just before I ran off to the states for the summer I submitted to a series of blood tests. Then I promptly forgot about the whole thing. When I arrived back in the UK and checked six weeks of accumulated mail there were several letters from specialists at the teaching hospital trying to arrange appointments, including a tedious new survey from medical genetics.
The stack also included a letter stating The result of your blood test has now arrived back from the laboratories. Please could you telephone the surgery to speak to Dr. X to discuss….
Now, if everything is fine, they just send a badly copied slip of paper with cryptic notes saying essentially all clear. So, as of Saturday afternoon I was aware that my blood work might indicate one of two things: Option A, cancer-suppressive medication needs to be adjusted. Option B, new and lethal cancer has been detected. Either way, this is significant news. My meds haven’t been changed in ten years, and if it is necessary to do so I’ll have to go to numerous tedious appointments at the sinister teaching hospital, with lots of people gawking. Alternately, if there is cancer brewing somewhere inside me, it is a variety that has limited treatment options.
Welcome to my annual Big Cancer Scare, four months early!
I’ve been through this too often to get excited. I certainly did not let the news detract from my weekend, or the residual glee over a truly excellent summer. That is not to say that I felt sanguine, or that I was in denial. I just declined to panic.
When I am truly frightened the experience is visceral – my body goes into a modified state of shock and (regardless of the temperature) I start shaking with cold – deep, incurable, disastrous. Thinking about my own mortality while waiting to call during office hours did not freak me out.
If my DNA dictates an early death, that is hardly a surprise; I’m not inclined to die at the moment but I’ve had more time than I ever expected.
I do not proactively grieve. I rarely even feel that emotion when appropriate – I react after the fact, when safe. Throughout the weekend I felt variously exasperated and annoyed – but not sad.
During the course of the recent research on Sharing, Relating, and Ladychat it became abundantly clear that even if I can learn a few new skills it will be more on the level of a conjuring trick than a true ability to communicate about certain subjects.
My instinct to tell anyone about this round of medical drama was in fact nonexistent. Partly to protect people; my mother and friends do not need the burden of worry. Beyond that I’ve lost too many dearly beloved over this kind of thing, both over the course of this strange life and in the last few months. I appreciate that particular human frailty.
However, saying that, I don’t want to know which of the people I currently love will abandon me out of fear – or whatever.
I didn’t even remember to tell Byron until late on Sunday. He replied All the cool kids are getting cancer! It’s like the new tattoo!
Yeah, gallows humor does in fact help. Byron is rock steady in that regard. So, what is the outcome, what did the tests indicate?
My medication needs to be adjusted, of course. It is unlikely that I would have mentioned anything if the situation were more serious!
Sign me up for dreary meetings with excitable endocrinologists – they love me since my particular presentation of disease is so very unusual. Back to the experience of being a specimen. Fun.
Last night I met Satnam at the Castle – it was excessively good to catch up on all the local gossip, including affairs and scandals and the news that someone in his field just sold a company for five hundred million dollars.
Satnam claims he followed me to Seattle, and later England, and whenever there is a hint that I might move again he flings himself to the floor in exaggerated horror. There are many secret adventures on the horizon for all of us but I opened my eyes wide and solemnly promised Next time I’ll follow you!
Massive celebratory congratulations to Ana Helena & Chris on the arrival of baby Ursula!
I hear that Ana Helena was already performing with Ape Shape the next day. That girl is hardcore!
Back in the UK, land of strong tea and aggressive driving! My first stop? Bacchanalia, of course. I cycled over to buy water and chat about the weather; the jolly people who run the place are some of my favorite people in this town.
Last night I aired out the boat then wandered through the city centre at twilight, once again astonished, baffled, and delighted to live in a place drenched with history and populated by such demented and entertaining people. When I am away I always forget about the ravishing beauty of this city.
The other day I was driving around Whidbey Island, singing along to the radio, thinking about performing with the Chorus, and I tried to coax my companions to remember those old songs.
Of course we still know all the lyrics to Union Maid and Rote Zora (including the German bits) but between us we could only come up with fragments of Sabotabby Kitten, Coal Tattoo, Dump the Bosses, Bread and Roses.
Finally we gave up and defaulted to Caleb Meyer – there is nothing quite like a murder ballad to round out a bright sunny day of wholesome fun! Why did a union chorus perform that one specifically? Well, we also did The Pill and My Big Iron Skillet.
Yes, it was quite a spectacle, particularly when my (then nine year old) daughter took the solo spot for songs about gender equality and sexual identity.
Now I live in a land where May Day is officially recognized, and I often forget the September stateside nod to the working masses.
Happy Labor Day!