The other night I took my kid to see the Moscow State Circus, an event well worth the price of admission just to see the contortionist.
Watching someone who has been able to undergo training to control and channel this sort of flexibility is simply fascinating. I am, like the performer, double jointed. In reality the term just means your joints are a little too loose – and for most people, this means you over-extend and get hurt.
I can move each of my toe joints independently, bend my fingers all the way back, turn my legs around or put them behind my head. My frame and muscles are also quite strong, but I never had the critical extra element of control over the whole thing; if I tried to swing on monkey bars it would shred my rotator cuff. I am the embodiment of sprain.
Our tickets were front row center and my son was absolutely thrilled and entranced – he loves all aspects of the human circus, is learning to ride a unicycle, says that he wants to attend mime college.
He was too young to accompany me the last time I went to New Mexico to see Marisa and Maria Fabulosa and Jake and the others in One Railroad Circus perform in a ghost town. He has now lived in the UK so long he has no memory of the trapeze in the living room at the Palace, or any of the parties and performances thrown by our aerialist friends.
The choice to leave that life behind was deliberate, and I do not regret it – even though there are many difficulties inherent in living so far from loved ones.
This fact was further underscored at the interval, when I received a message from my mother informing me that the final great-aunt has had a stroke.
I wish that I could be there to help in some practical fashion. Growing up in that family it was always very clear that love was expressed in pragmatic acts instead of lofty proclamations. This took all forms, from the certainty that someone would pick you up if your car broke down in the middle of the night, or you were forcibly removed from a Greyhound bus and left without money or shoes somewhere in Montana (not me – that honor goes to my aunt).
Rides to the emergency room, bail money, care packages sent to federal prisons – it was all covered. Regardless of the contingency or crime, we looked after our own.
When visiting, we never showed up empty-handed – you always took a casserole or home-fried chicken, or if it was the only option, stale discount pastries from the outlet store.
Because I was so sickly and odd, while the cousins raced dirt bikes or beat each other with sticks, I always sat with my grandmother and the great-aunts. As a direct consequence, my social skills are strongest when it comes to interacting with the frail and elderly; if I live that long, I will be an excellent old lady.
There were enough of us to assume that socializing with the older generation would always be a feature of our life; the founding family was thirty strong spread between three households. Subsequent generations produced children in double digits – a typical pioneer story.
My mother was one of seven, her closest sets of cousins came in units of five and six. But this falters in the late sixties, and most of the cousins at my level are only children.
The once large, vibrant, close-knit family is scattered, tattered, nearly extinct. There will be no more coffee cake mornings, or potluck suppers. No wild weddings or whiskey fueled wakes. No aunts, uncles, cousins growing up and getting old.
Even if I could fly back right now there would be very little for me to do except hide my tears.
I was at the circus with an eleven year old so of course I rallied and laughed and chatted as we returned to our seats. In the time left before the show started again I also fell into conversation with the elderly woman next to me, an unusual move on my part anywhere in the world, let alone England.
If circumstance and desire have destroyed almost all connections with my biological family that just means that I have to work harder to create a new one. The best tribute I can offer my great-aunt is the fact that she and her sisters taught me well, that I will continue their tradition of taking care of the people around me, no matter how difficult, no matter what happens.
This afternoon I received a text from somewhere in South America (I guess) saying Mark your calendar, party at my house in Spain! Will be extraordinary… promise!
I was thrilled and twirled with excitement, even though there is no way I can get away for the next few months. I can’t even make it to Iain’s birthday celebration in London this week, let alone a lost weekend of wicked debauchery in another country. No childcare, no parties!
Then I remembered that my mother is coming to visit, facilitating my escape… I can fly to Malaga from Prague! I am so endlessly thrilled!
However, the actually extraordinary thing about invitation? It came from someone who attended the same junior high.
The morning I met David in 1984 we were just a motley collection of teenage outcasts standing in line at the waterbed store in a derelict western town, shivering against the cold wet dawn, waiting to buy tickets for the first ever Madonna concert.
Together we listed through the indignities of a junior high run along the lines of a federal prison, and a high school featuring barbed wire and security cameras. We threw Kool-Aid parties when others were getting into crack. While our peers nailed lived kittens to trees, we amused each other with pranks like forking lawns.
It was a perilous, innocent, awful time, and when we parted at age eighteen we were separately fleeing not just the town but our respective dates, families, lives.
We were lost to each other from that day until just recently – and only then because he lives in London and I live in Cambridge. Who would have dreamed how far we would go? Who would have guessed we had the capacity to grow into adults who are actually more playful and delighted and determined than we were at age thirteen?
Not me, for sure.
I didn’t even think we would stay alive long enough to cross the county line. Oh, how I adore David!
The last time I was in Amsterdam visiting Dishwasher Pete and Amy Joy they showed me photographs of a trip with someone who looked very familiar. I said Um, so…. how do you know Sallyann?
When I left my government career I swore an oath that I would never again work just for money, but only for love of the work itself. Of course, that meant I had a lot of spare time, most of which I filled by creating esoteric little web sites that you have never heard of.
Ten years ago I was a subscriber to a zine out of California. When the company running the website realized they were not going to make a profit off the venture they pulled out and I took over as publisher.
From the very first day the project was collaborative in nature, with volunteers from all over the nation (and later world) pitching in whatever skills they could spare. One of the very first people to step up was an architect from Pittsburgh called Sallyann.
If memory serves, she designed the very first iteration of the site that gradually grew into the behemoth that is now known as Hipmama.com. Kim – another Pittsburgh resident – was one of the first moderators. Lli was a personal friend based in Portland, and she was involved in all manner of strategic planning for the project, and five or six years ago she also moved to Pittsburgh.
When I say that someone volunteered to help with HM, this means that they offered something really rare and precious, because for all the wonderful things the site has meant or accomplished, the experience of working behind the scenes has always been, at the very least, challenging. For some of us it has been quite brutal.
The volunteers all worked without monetary compensation, often in difficult circumstances, to build and nurture a community – frequently without thanks or proper acknowledgment from the people they served. Because, of course, that was never the point.
I feel such a high level of admiration for the volunteers I can never really express my gratitude; they are, simply, the best people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Lli has been in touch throughout the entire decade, and we see each other whenever possible – sometimes in Portland but also in NYC and London, wherever we happen to turn up.
I haven’t heard from the other two in awhile but when I wrote to say that Byron moved to their fair city all three demonstrated the grace and charm that characterized our earliest friendships, offering to take him out and show him around and help him get to know the city.
I tend to fling myself at new experiences without any expectation of what the future might hold. When I stop to trace the way that this life has introduced me to so many amazing people I am astonished at my great fortune, marked not by material wealth but rather by friendship. It could have been very different.
I am, as always, so honored to have these friends.
Sarah is back in town – hurray! She is here to help David pack and leave – oh no!
I met them courtesy of Gordon – a fortuitous connection that smoothed the path as I moved from one country to the next. We’ve known each other through major life transitions, and I adore them both.
Sarah is even, through a combination of chance, choice, and coincidence, one of the very few people I’ve ever taken on a major boat ride.
Last night we met at the Castle for perhaps the last time; oh, how I’ll miss them when they’re both gone for good! Sarah is also, of course, my Ladychat guru and she demanded scandal and gossip.
Since last we met I’ve been to Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Nice, Paris, Rome…. and probably a few other places I’ve forgotten. Unfortunately for Sarah, I’ve mostly behaved myself – though I did have some stories to tell about other accomplices.
Plus, guess who I ran into at the bar? Jean, no longer deported! He was with Stelios but later came and joined our group. Conversation ranged across all manner of topics with particular emphasis on immigration law given Jean’s recent woes, David’s efforts to extend so he can finish the dissertation, and the fact that I travel with visa denied stamped in my passport.
They did extract sufficient facts to harass and mock me; Sarah and David are hilarious, beloved – and the loss of their companionship will be much lamented. Good luck to them, and a beautiful baby girl, as they venture forth to a new life!
The other day I was reminded again that in certain local circles I am viewed as a wanton and dissolute femme fatale. I was already consulting with Mark Mitchell about summer travel plans and took the opportunity to lodge an indignant complaint about my reputation in this town.
He wrote You have become a dangerous libertine I’m afraid … I would hate to have to guillotine you come the revolution.
I replied If you have to guillotine me, could you at least make sure my hair doesn’t get messed up?
His answer? We will tie your hair up with a pretty ribbon before you receive the kiss of the blade.
Oh, how I miss Seattle! Bauhaus, August 2007:
This morning I was waiting for some packages to be delivered and idly flicking through my ipod, looking for music I haven’t heard a million times. Much to my surprise I happened upon the soundtrack to Valley Girl.
I have no idea how it got there – not exactly a film I liked, let alone a cultural trend I embraced. Nicholas Coppola aka Cage as a punk? Even in my rural Northwestern adolescence, I knew better.
Plus listening to Johnny Are You Queer? did not prove at all illuminating, let alone fun. Oh, the eighties!
Though I do have this side question after reading the wiki: E.G. Daily was married to Rick Salomon for five years? Huh? Not exactly what I had imagined from the love interest in Pee-Wee. Let alone the voice of Tommy Pickles. But I digress.
The interesting thing about soundtracks is of course whatever memory or emotion they can bring back unexpectedly. This particular album has zero resonance (nope, no tender memories of (I Melt with You), but others can take me straight back to times and places I sometimes wish to forget.
The very earliest illuminating musical moment I remember was provided by a scratchy cassette playing a version of Rock Lobster recorded off a weak radio channel. That song rocked my world profoundly – when? Not as early as 1978 (I was only seven years old!) but probably somewhere around 1981, when my musical tastes diverged from that of my family.
You can’t listen to Neil Diamond your whole life, after all.
Other early sources included Joan Jett (obviously) and the Go-Gos, still arguably my first exposure to real punk music, regardless of what the boys in the audience might mumble.
My first concert was the first night of the first ever Madonna Virgin Tour, in 1984, when I was in the midst of cancer treatments and about to drop out of school. I mostly sat with my forehead pressed to the guard rail, too sick to care, but I remember the opening act quite clearly: the Beastie Boys, booed off the stage, screaming Fuck you, Seattle! That was way more my speed than Holiday.
When you live in the back of beyond it is impossible to be all that picky; we took what we could scavenge from older kids, random trips to the big city, Bombshelter Videos, the flickering yet merciful offerings of KJET, bits of good stuff on 120 Minutes.
In the summer of 1986 all my friends were into The Cure, and since I was one of the few kids with a car and license (but no curfew) I dutifully listened while ferrying people back and forth. I had no particular opinion, but a couple of those albums became entwined with the experience of falling in love for the first time.
We went on a maybe-date to see Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me at the Coliseum. So: the first time a boy held my hand I was staring at Robert Smith shambling around drunk (we presume) singing dark and alarming love ballads. How prophetic. That particular relationship ended in bitter recriminations and death threats but I can still listen to The Cure with fond regard.
Recently I commented over dinner that I am relieved no albums remind me of the breakup and Byron said Oh no – there is one, and I can tell you exactly what it is! You’ve never once let me play it!
I shuddered. Oh, indeed. Except in my mind that particular sonic experience is more connected to waking up to the sight of blood smeared everywhere: the car accident that destroyed everything.
Even though Laibach was actually playing; for whatever reason, the Laibach album was not writ upon my scars.
Later that year, driving around endlessly with thoughts of suicide ruling my every waking moment, I know that I was listening to The Pixies because I lost custody of the music collection and I was down to exactly one tape.
Why then is my number one musical memory of that era the fact that the Eagles song Take it Easy seemed to persecute me at every turn? Hard to say, but one thing is clear – the music I actually remember most is the stuff I can still hear on the radio.
That fact does not reflect my actual musical taste; I was at most of the seminal NW shows between 1985 and 1990, though I have zero memory of them: I have efficiently erased the songs from my brain. Given the chance someone with a similar background could probably assemble a mix tape that would put me in a hyperventilating panic (this is not a challenge).
Nickle, for instance, is prone to asking clever questions like Do you remember the night the punks rioted on the Bremerton ferry?
Well, yes. That happened when a bunch of Seattle kids came over to Bremerton for a show at Natacha’s. All of which I will forget as soon as I finish typing this sentence. I do not wish to open the cupboard of my mind that contains the details of the show in question.
The Violent Femmes were the soundtrack of next falling in, if not love, then impossible romantic illusions leading onward to becoming a mother. Not because I picked em (either love object or album), but because someone else did – along with Metallica, Guns N Roses, all the usual suspects who come back and taunt me when I go to karaoke.
Sheela Na Gig calls up a crisp memory of standing in the pantry at my parents house talking to Byron, calling from sixty miles away to ask if I wanted to go to a PJ Harvey show. That night. Somewhere in Seattle (we could meet mebbe, or something, voice trails off…) To which I sighed in exasperation and pointed out that as the parent of a two year old I could hardly go to a show without advance warning to arrange childcare, now could I?
Byron was supposed to be a passing fancy; who would have guessed at the complications? And what was I listening to? Sonic Youth. I don’t wanna, I don’t think so, I don’t wanna, I don’t think so……
That, of course, also covers my early career in government and abrupt decision to vanish for awhile. During the early Portland years I was so poor I could not get a needle for the stereo, or buy new music at all. Mostly I listened to stuff that Kim Singer sent from Pittsburgh – the first couple of Belle & Sebastian albums – or random review copies – including lots of Elliot Smith – and tapes of Beth’s radio show in Madison.
After that there was the Chorus, and singing, and all the amazing musicians who treated my house like a community center. When I left Portland it felt like losing a limb, and I reverted to Elliot Smith, this time albums bought from a store. His albums are a perfect companion for extended mourning; if only there were more of them.
I’m not going to list the various friends who make music I listened to over the years, for the expedient reason I might forget to put someone in this paragraph who would then have their feelings hurt. Quite frequently when my grown-up daughter has discovered a new music sensation she calls me up asks if I know them and I reply something like Oh, that is Pam’s best friend, and I think we had seminar together in 1990….
But she cuts me off and exclaims I don’t care about that! I want to know if you like the music!
Though in a similar vein, I find it strange and alarming to hear what I think of as friends from the neighborhood, or people I knew in college, or people I would commonly see flopping about in other modes in my environment, playing from jukeboxes across the world.
One specific song has leapt out and made me cry in Madrid, Paris, Rome, London…. and no, I will not specify which song or band.
I’m finally recovering from the dread malady, though I have mostly been sleeping all week.
This morning as we walked across Jesus Green with the sun rising above the spires my eleven year old son said Mom, let me impart some information to you…
His conversation ranged across the history of skateboarding, the intricate plots of P. G. Wodehouse novels, the Mister Rogers car theft anecdote, and the very exciting fact that they are playing maths games all day at school.
Of course we were walking because he has just this week outgrown the last size in boy bicycles and needs to get one built for a man. Oh, childhood; it disappears so fast!
Decadent, hilarious, insightful, hella smart, and ruthless in the best possible ways – Rachel is an endless marvel. Happy, happy birthday wishes – cheers to you now and in all the years to come!
One night in San Francisco I coaxed Dawn Riddle into eating dinner at Spork, a merry adventure indeed; taking punks to eat fancy food is great fun! They are always so bemused!
After filling up on backwards food (mmm, scallops) we met some of her friends at a club to watch a DJ spin what the poster declared was “alternative hits of the 90’s.”
Apparently, this now means “stupid mainstream music you could hear at the junior high prom.” Plus, I was the oldest person in the place by easily a decade. And, worst of all, half the people were wearing ironic plaid. Ugh!
I ditched the scene and scampered off to Annie’s Social Club for Leisure, where Marcus promised I could find actual grownups having fun. Upon arrival my friends plied me with alcohol then dragged me up on the tiny stage where they were hopping around like loons.
Then they ordered me to dance. Which I proceeded to do. For the second time in my entire life. After about an hour one of my charming companions stopped and said in wonder You’re a good dancer!
Well, duh. The fact that I choose not to do something does not mean I am incapable!
Gordon offered to throw me a birthday party, and he kept his word – to an astonishing degree! When I asked what I could do to help, he said invite people and show up!
How remarkable. I’m used to not only manufacturing my own celebrations, but also cleaning up after. Gordon is such a good friend, along with being an all-round nice guy! I even left the guest list up to him, inviting precisely two people of my own volition.
Everyone else heard via the host or from other friends, and that meant the turnout was quite an interesting mix of beloved friends and people I’ve never met before. The whole thing was great fun – the best birthday party ever! Plus it was not actually on the cursed day, so more people showed up than I expected. This included (but was by no means limited to) Daphne, and Pete, and mad scientists, and and and…..
In fact, Andreas later marveled Why does Bee live in Europe, when she belongs in San Francisco?
Why indeed. We’ll leave that mystery for another day and proceed with a tour of the festivities:
Cake not made by me- plus they asked permission before singing to me!
Dawn Riddle wore earrings shaped like an ipod:
Me & Zack from the Bus Stop (oh, how we commiserated on the loss) who also graciously shot my publicity photos:
Jonathan, as beautifully turned out as ever:
Champagne bottles popped over and over but given that it was a Sunday we made it an early night – despite Pete’s observation that Gordon wasn’t working the next day.
I wandered off into the night in a state of bliss, and was woken a few hours later by the fact that Byron needed to go to the emergency room. Fast.
Luckily I’d done the research and knew where to take him, but the cab ride was in fact dodgy – he should have had an ambulance.
I’m definitely the person you want on your side in these situations; I remain calm and always have an eerie grasp of the details and information required to get the attention of the correct doctor. Plus, instead of being grumpy, I was rather pleased to see the sun rise. I’ve never had that experience in San Francisco!
After a few hours of fitful sleep it was time to collect one kid from the train station in Oakland, then zoom back across the bridge to meet the other kid at the airport in SF, to proceed with the family portion of the Not Birthday..
Pretty good times, all considered.
Presents? Why look! It is a cute lil’ ipod! Technically I picked it out, and hassled people endlessly for the vote between sweet and practical. I love it!
More images of loot, including the very awesome contributions from Gordon, Hiya, and Jonathan:
And the bittersweet from my mother; a collection of Lavender family photographs (parents wedding day lower right):
On the actual night we went out to dinner with Hiya and Jonathan (Gordon was invited but had to stay in and wash his hair). My thirty-seventh birthday was absolutely astonishing and wonderful in every possible way!
Twenty-five years ago today I was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
In a somewhat startling series of coincidences, a whole host of people I know from elsewhere are in San Francisco this weekend.
I could never have imagined a scenario in which Bus Stop delegates (specifically those collected during the Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks) and the East London Massive met. Let alone on cheese mafia territory. Yet it appears that it will be so. I can’t wait! This has been the best January ever!
Did I mention that when we left Loveland the rental car started flashing every possible indicator light? Oh – and it refused to shift out of first gear. The choice was to remain at a closed ski lodge, wait in a sketchy turnout, or…. coast.
From the Continental Divide all the way to Georgetown. Not knowing if the brakes would hold. Um. Fun!
After the scary road part it wouldn’t have been so bad. Except the folks were waiting for us to do a belated xmas dinner. But hey, these things happen – and I have long held a place in my heart for the home of the real life Charlie Utter!
We took shelter in a restaurant for awhile then returned to wait in the vehicle for the rental car company to issue a replacement, something they promised to do within the hour. Four hours later we were still sitting in a broken car – in subzero weather.
Though it was worth it because guess what the replacement was? A Durango! Can you imagine? I can’t, and I got to ride around sitting on the seat heater for five whole days!
In the end the escapade was doubly lucky because, if we’d gone the day originally planned, we would have been trapped by a whiteout that shut I-70 and left two thousand people in emergency shelters. From the safety of the city, the whole thing was beautiful:
The other night I was driven to yonder far distant land (translation: an unincorporated area of Aurora County that literally did not exist the last time I was in Colorado) and picked up the always amazing Ade. At the home of his stepmother. Where I wheedled an introduction to at least one sister.
Can you believe it? People who know Ade from Seattle probably suspect he hatched fully formed, but I now have proof otherwise!
We backtracked countless miles in search of a drinking establishment and ended up at the Night Shift Saloon, where Byron fed quarters to the juke box and befriended the locals.
Ade and I got all silly on cocktails and wine, talking fast and furious about love and sex and doomsday cults and all manner of oddity. As one does. Why are so many of my most cherished confidantes Bus Stop refugees? I don’t know, but I am endlessly thankful for their friendship:
I do not make New Year resolutions but yesterday I arrived at a momentous decision. Brace yourself.
Over the last four years I have given up coffee, red wine, and hair dye. Now I am repudiating the one remaining addiction I revel in. After all, if my friends can kick heroin or crack, I can certainly take the withdrawal of my daily bubble fix. Right? So I did it. I made the choice. I’m now twenty-four hours into my seltzer sobriety.
Who knows how long it will last – I may weaken and succumb even later tonight. But at least I am making the attempt. For those who do not know me in real life, this is a huge thing. I’ve dragged bottles of sparkling water on public transportation in a dozen different countries. Carried such heavy bags my arms were bruised on long brutal hikes across all manner of terrain no matter what the weather. Six liters every single day!
In Portland I used an ancient VW van as my recycling center, and it was always full to bursting. In all other houses my residence has been declared by the extraordinary amount of recycling in the bins.
Nowadays no matter how hard I work to haul it away, every storage cupboard on the boat is stuffed with empty bottles. I love the stuff. More than any food, or cinnamon jelly beans, or cute fluffy kittens. When I don’t drink it my skin cracks and bleeds, but hey – maybe I can switch to plain? Cause who knows what the carbonation is rendering to my innards, would be the logic. Or something. I think I need to go drink some more tap water now.
Happy New Year!