Saturday, September 26, 2015

Inventing Memories at My Fortieth Reunion

Forty years since I last walked the halls of my high school, and last week I attended a reunion of classmates, in a bar in my hometown across the lake. I was ambivalent about going, as I haven't kept up with anyone from those years. I had an exit plan in case it was dreadful.

I ended up staying for hours.

Of course, we're all different people from who we were at 18. I was exceptionally shy then (my sons refuse to believe this) and decidedly in the "nerd" category. Awkward, bone-juttingly skinny, editor of the school literary magazine, captain of the girl's track team, sang alto in the jazz choir. I could barely utter a single syllable to a boy without verging on panic.

Trailing this history, and with my particular interest in social interactions, I navigated the crowd with none of the social anxiety I'd once experienced. But most of the faces were completely foreign. Who were these people? Strange to realize that everyone looked at the name tag before the face. A quick browse through the couple of annuals on a table was enough to call forth the younger versions.

I engaged in a handful of substantive conversations, but mostly I mingled and observed, taking note of the old cliques thrown together again, the surfeit of massive man-bellies at every bump of the elbow, the handful of women who seemed not to have aged more than a day or two. (How did they manage this?!)

I was surprised that I enjoyed myself so much. Grateful not to be that gawky teenager anymore.

At one point I was sitting alone at the bar waiting for some food, and a man struck up a conversation, the husband of a classmate I'd barely known.

 "What do you remember about Mary?" He asked.

"I remember that in 7th grade she wore tiny round glasses and had a bowl haircut," I said.

"Yes! I can picture her like that! Tell me more!"

"Well, I don't really know anything else. We weren't friends."

"Oh come on! Tell me some things about her that I don't know. I know you can think of something."

"Um, not really. Like I said, I knew who she was, but we didn't hang out."

"COME ON! You gotta tell me something!"

He was starting to bug me, was leaning into me in a mildly threatening manner.
I didn't like his shirt, or the way his upper lip curled when he insisted I tell him something.
He kept at me, boorish and bullying, and I was waiting for my food and didn't want to leave, so I said,

"Okay then. I tell you what: I'll make some things up, okay? Like I said, I don't remember anything about her, but I can make up just about anything, if that's what you want."

"Yes! Yes! Tell me something!!"

Gah. The guy was a broken record, out for weird slumber-party girl secrets WHICH I DIDN'T HAVE.

And so my fiction commenced:

"In 9th grade, Mary wore pink footed pajamas to school, with a little fluffy white tail."

"Oh YEAH! I can see Mary in those! Did they have little ears too?"

"Yes. Little pink ears."

"Haha! I can just see her in those! That's great! Tell me more!"

"You sure? Remember, I'm making this up."

"Yeah, yeah. Just TELL ME MORE!"

"Alrighty then. In 10th grade, Mary started a food fight in the cafeteria, and no one could believe that she'd do such a thing."

"Really?" He looked confused.

"Yes, really."

"Okay. Tell me more."

I was beginning to enjoy this.

"In 11th grade, Mary had a sex-change operation, and then changed back to a girl."

His jaw dropped open at this, and nothing came out of his mouth.

"And in 12th grade, she joined a band of musical gypsies in Romania, but returned to school just in time to graduate."

At this point Mr. TELLMESOMETHING just stared at me, visibly confused, perhaps a little shaken, his mouth gaping open, his eyes bugging out.

I think he'd forgotten that this was all made-up.

Suddenly he seemed to come-to, shook his head a bit like he was exiting a trance, said, "NOW THAT'S ENOUGH!" in a scolding tone, and strode away.

HA! Finally got rid of him.
 But damn.
I felt more than a little smug.

Forty years ago I would've trembled and blushed at such an encounter, the words mumble-frozen on my tongue. Instead I came away grateful for these 40 years of living, with no desire to return to 1975.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Little House of Imperfections

In another life, we drove for hours around Connemara in the West of Ireland, with 16 different versions of Shenandoah blasting on the iPod. It was pure indulgence on the part of my husband, and I loved him for that. A mid-summer day, all sun and quickcloud bluster, a squall and a rainbow, and another rainbow. Down narrow lanes twisting past stone cottages and sheep, ending at the deadend of the sea.

Turn around.

The small bays and inlets of the Atlantic shone in turquoise and emerald, sometimes in concentric circles of color. I could never get enough of the wildly-shifting tones of the Irish landscape. What could easily look like miles of untreed rocky pasture appeared to me as an ever-changing sweep of amber and chestnut browns, of aquaeous greens and a sky-blue so deeply saturated it made me weep. It was a drug: more, please.

My favorite of all the versions of Shenandoah we listened to that day is this one, by the inimitable Richard Thompson:

In another life yet again — in this one, now, with yet more loves lost and trailing their remants of inseverable sinew — I wandered out into ebbing light, Shenandoah cranked up, windows and doors wide open to summer's last heat.

Streaks of russets on the western horizon —
Pots of rosebud geraniums in full-on coral blossom —
The hazelnut tree losing leaves already, a crackling —

How to give up loving those we love, who don't love us in return? One would think that after nearly six decades, all the answers would be easy. Sometimes love deadends at the sea, and the only options are drowning or turning around.

Turning around and ending up back where I am, in my little house of imperfections.

And yet despite this deeply measured sadness there exists a kind of joy, abiding and immutable, and acceptance of the duality of life. A longing — which I doubt will ever fade — for something greater than the here and now, yet acknowledging the utter perfection of the here and now.

Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river.
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, we're bound away
'Cross the wide Missouri.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


I traded homegrown green beans today for two pairs of earrings and a small outdoor turquoise table, traded with my neighbor R. who does hauling for a living and drags all his treasures to the parking strip once a month and sells stuff. He never lets me pay.

Besides finding the occasional curiosity, when I see his sign out on the corner, I know it's time for some neighborly conversation, so I walked down there this afternoon, pulled up a chair, and hung out.

There was an exterior door that looked promising, but he said it was an odd size. Too tall. I fiddled with a Makita drill — mine has suddenly given up the ghost. Oh, it's only probably 25 years old. There are three parts that can go bad: the drill itself, the battery, and the battery charger, and there was a good chance that this drill was in the sell-pile for the same reason mine is in the doesn't-work pile. I passed on the drill. His wife C. came out and offered me a pair of cowboy boots, but they were too big. Some leather Coach handbags appeared: not enough pockets.

I thumbed through a few books ("Russian Tea House Cookbook"). We discussed whether or not a wooden box was an old ammunition box, decided that it was more likely used to transport rifles. A conjoined pair of old school desks sat unsat-in on the grass. A green-painted hoe leaned against the hedge. There was much more to see, but I made myself stop. If anything comes into my house, something has to go out.

After delivering the sack of beans, I went back home to read, and from my skin rose the scent of tomatoes and dill. The garden is a little out of hand, things growing across the narrow paths into other things. I've let a few tomato plants sprawl out, and they've taken their liberties seriously: ripe red nubs poke out from between the variegated pinks of cosmos', and between bush beans, and from under the fan-like zucchini leaves which are fading with the usual late season mildew.

Gardening is, for me, about so much more than just the harvest. When the season is finished, and I'm driven indoors as the rains start up again and the temperature plummets, I'll miss these floating scents that stay with me after my daily vegetal rummage. Not that I want dill perfume, or tomato cologne, mind you. Perhaps just a hint, to remind me of these sun-woozy afternoons of early September, when tomatoes hung thick and heavy from the vine, everywhere in the garden.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Weekend Note

Saturday morning.

The wreckage of my body after a week of going to work sick when I should have stayed home but went because there were deadlines that otherwise wouldn't have been met. The absolute folly of that.
Will the owners of galleries in Ephraim, Wisconsin and Ogunquit, Maine (and Portland and Freeport) think of this and thank me when their orders arrive just in time for Labor Day Sales?

Well. Stupid question, that.

But here this morning there are clouds stacked up against the horizon and it's predicted to rain throughout most of the next five days. There was a buzz in the community about this yesterday, a welcome anticipation from even those most dreading the inevitable damp winter looming only a few calendar pages in front of us. We've all heard the news: hottest year on record. Frost's "Fire and Ice" plays unceasing in my background soundtrack, while the eastern half of our Evergreen State (yes, that's the state nickname) continues to burn: currently 1,150 square miles aflame.

Here, this morning, the hazelnut tree is buzzing with chicadees and juncos. All my windows are still flung open. Rejoicing in rain.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Peaches, Protestors and One Presidential Politician

I bought a 20 pound box of Elberta freestone peaches yesterday and made a peach pie so brimming with peaches that they actually broke loose out of the pie, as if the peaches were hatching. At the same time, my younger son was unloading the top half of the chicken coop he's been slowly building for me, a  chicken-wire and recycled-pallet affair with a cedar-shingled nesting box. He bought almost no new materials for it, which pleases me to no end. So, soon: chickens. Let the hen'n'egg puns commence. Pity my poor workmates!

But the pie: my older son took over prepping the fruit, and, wizard in the kitchen that he is, added vanilla extract and whiskey and brown sugar to the usual ingredients and my kitchen smelled like Heaven On High. Lawd, lawd. If I'd expired the moment I took a whiff I'd've expired blissfully.

On another note, I happened to be a member of the crowd last Saturday in downtown Seattle when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was upstaged by a group of bullies who demanded the microphone. I can't imagine you've not heard the story, but if you haven't, here's a link to a Washington Post article about it.

I won't get into it; while I love reading opinion pieces, it's my least favorite kind of writing to do. But I will say that I'm glad I was there to witness what went down. This singular event seems to have propelled Senator Sanders into the mainstream media, from which he's been noticeably absent since he announced his bid for the office.

At the larger event that evening (15,000 people!), I was fortunate to witness, for the first time in my years, a politician who represents a loving kindness towards humanity. And while sometimes it seems too good to be true, I'm convinced that Bernie Sanders is the real deal.

As was the peach pie, with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I Thought About Today at Work When I Bit into a Plum

I plucked a crimson plum from the tree this afternoon and as I bit into the warm flesh, the juices oozing between my fingers, I thought of the small pit at the center of the fruit. I considered the golden, sugary, soft and nearly-pulsing flesh that protected the pit, the flesh into which my teeth had only just pierced, ravaged, bit a chunk from.

And this is where my brain landed: the flesh, with its tart skin wrapper, exists to shelter and nourish the pit as it grows to maturity. When the pit has fully reached its capability to go forth and grow a new tree, and eventually create its own coterie off plumlettes and pitlettes, it is released from the wholeness of the fruit. The fruit, essentially, births the pit — the seed — and is sloughed off, no longer necessary, its job done.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I came to the realization that when we are eating a plum, we are consuming a plum placenta and plum uterus.

It was hot.
It was late afternoon.
I'd hit a wall.
I didn't want to work anymore.
I was mighty grateful for the plum placenta and plum uterus.

And I don't know if it was the fructose or the notion that I was slurping up a warm placenta and uterus, but after that little fruity encounter, I perked right up.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Long Silence

Few words. Few words here, at least. A loathing to turn on the computer. Hours spent out under the sky, with no roof. Time spent poking around the garden. (Tomatoes are coming on, and I can barely keep up with the beans.) Nothing too precious in my private landscape, only intense observation of what is, what is here, now. Perhaps what others might call an untidyness, but my current attitude to those Those Who Cluck is: I don't give a fuck. Honestly.

Cynicism aside (and I battle against it mightily), I enjoy a lifelong love affair with the mechanisms of nature. And in the city, nature is what happens when one doesn't obsessively tidy up. I mean, it's not entirely obvious that there's any nature at work here. A short length of unsplit firewood aka piece of dead tree might look, to some, as a laziness, a why-didn't-she-put-that-out-for-yardwaste-pickup scenario. Two short lengths of unsplit firewood might look like someone dropped something and didn't bother to pick up after herself. To me, these decaying hunks of tree are mini-ecosystems, hosts to beneficial fungi and insects, adding nutrients (organic!) to the soil as they slowly assimilate themselves back into the earth.

And realizing, after rereading the above paragraph, that I actually do give a fuck.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In The Garden

Picking Beans

Backed up against the sweet peas
drooping over the path, beside
the two onions from last year
now gone to starry white-globed seed
and swirling with bumble bees;
overrun by a volunteer tomato
whose rambling vines I cannot
bring myself to yank up —

In line beside the green feathers
carrots wave in the air,
and the tang of dill
announcing its place where it wants
and not where I want —

And then the few square feet
given over to the cosmos
whose pink petals each year
offer new paint-strokes
of cross-pollination —

I squat in not-enough room between rows
and pluck the slim pods
hidden beneath their own leafed canopy.
The garden belongs to them —
the beans and dill, the cucumber and onions.
I am their lucky caretaker, their human
who offers water each evening,
reaps their generosity in silver bowls.
Thanks them 
for the honor of tending.

  ©T. Clear

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


The massive forest fires in British Columbia have blanketed much of the region in smoke, and the light in Seattle these past few days has been oppressively yellow. I've never seen the sun like this at sunset: deeply red, with horizontal striations, against a grey/yellow sky.  No expanse of reds, pinks or oranges strung out across the horizon; only the singular crimson disc of the sun.  It's eerie, spooky and completely fascinating. There is also an odd quiet to the air, as if all of humanity has entered into a state of collapse. Not a soul is out and about. It's unsettling, and makes for a constant low-level agitation.
My iPhone camera didn't accurately capture the redness of the sun, and the sky had more of a jaundiced cast, but nonetheless it was altogether odd.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Will somebody please turn down the heat!

The tap water diminished to nary a drop this morning, and here we are in the middle of record-breaking high summer temperatures.  I called a bunch of stores looking for an AC unit, and they all gave the same response: SOLD OUT.

Broken water main a mile away repaired after a few hours, and now the flow is strong but murky. I've set a large pot to boil, but the combination of heat and swampish water kills the appetite.

Our local meteorologist, Cliff Mass, says that our current stuck-weather-pattern has nothing to do with the larger concern of climate change, but rather a result of amplification of the upper level wave pattern. Whatever that means, I find it only minimally reassuring, as this high pressure system seems to be entrenched offshore and in my sinuses. Gah.

Lying down covered in wet towels with a fan pointed at one's body seems to help. I'm trying to figure out how to achieve this position at work. No luck yet. My days have been reduced to sluggish production painting and shipping. Gasping. Headaching.  [Complaining.]

We are all so vulnerable, we humans.

My tomato plants, on the other hand, are having an all-out party in their parking-strip garden bed, getting close to surpassing my height (just shy of 5'7'). And, well, the zucchini are, as usual, showing absolutely zero restraint. Sweet peas hanging on by a tendril, but their end is nigh.

If you have any spare rain, email me some. Please.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Send Rain

I'm doing everything I can to keep my sweet peas alive, 88 degrees at 8pm tonight, and I seem to be losing. It's been pretty much more and more flowers every day; been picking as many as I have vases. I've even taken to putting a bouquet of them on the sidewalk with a sign that says "Take me home". It's my little patch of luxury — day after day purples, and reds, whites and pinks — and it has seemed that there was no end in sight, but. But.

Where is my June rain?
Feels like suffocation, and it's only going to get hotter.

I keep thinking of the Robert Frost poem, Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Seems we've made our choice.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Memory as Fiction, as Truth

Going way back: my parents rented a beach cabin for a week at a place where, when I think of it now, I see a glittered sky, and sparkling light: Holly, on Hood Canal, in the eastern shadow of the Olympic Mountains. I like to believe I was two years old, but can we really remember all that far back? Whether I was two or six hardly matters. But I'll stick with that number, as it's what I've held all these years, and, well, it seems more primal, and, oddly, for some reason, more pure.  (And I know four people who would most likely correct me on this.)

Anyway. I slept in a double bed, in the middle of all my sisters. Five of us on one mattress, and me smack in the middle, where the covers kind of floated over me. The utter comfort in that, and the sense of security! I recall sinking down, not needing anything, and the glorious letting go into dream-land. And waking up laughing, being tickled. If that was the only memory I carried with me from childhood, I think it would be enough.

But there's more from that single occasion: in the cottage next door was a little girl who was a year older than me (three!), and she wore a sun bonnet, and tottered about her garden with a giant watering can. There were foxglove, and daisies, and tall blue spikes whose name I wouldn't know for many years: delphinium. I was enchanted by it all: bonnet, foxglove, watering can — in dappled morning light. And impressed by this "older" girl, and how she seemed so in possession of her world.

When I think back on this now, I ask myself, was this real, or was this a story read to me by an older sister? And if a story, how much of the actual story am I remembering, and how much is a fabrication built upon years and years of remembering and re-remembering? Or are these details — so commited to my consciousness as fact —merely details that I heard from the countless family stories told around the kitchen table on dark winter evenings? Whatever their inception, they have existed for half a century, hard-wired into the circuitry of my brain.

But let's not forget the oysters on the beach which could cut a nasty slice into my foot if I took off my salt-water sandals.  And the icy tide that lapped at sand and shell. There was probably a beach fire at dusk, and marshmallows on a stick, with graham crackers and chocolate at hand. And sticky fingers.

These were my thoughts tonight as I watered my vegetable garden, with my trusty old (and dented) watering can. And how that long-ago flower garden, whether it existed or not, has informed nearly every thought of flowers and gardens all the years since.

When I think of things I treasure — objects — this watering can is on the list. I don't know where it came from, or who had it before me, but it didn't come to me new, and it seems to have been around an awfully long time.

Perhaps I conjured it from memory? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Without Feathers

Walking the neighborhood tonight, I came across a man sitting on the parking strip in front of his house, a giant orange cat on his lap.

"His name is Momo," he said. " I like to refer to him as a momo-sapien."

Puffy orange cat, man in orange and yellow geometric-print shorts and a green botanical-print shirt. White beard. The sun was setting and the sky yawned in tangerines and corals. So much color!

I said, "you know, don't you, that if you were smaller, he'd eat you."

"Oh! That's never occurred to me!"

"Think about it," I said.

"Even without feathers?"

"Especially without feathers."

I continued on, up and down steep little hills, roses spilling out onto the sidewalk everywhere. I thought of a previous life, in the suburbs, when I felt as if I'd die of loneliness, loneliness for this urban neighborhood.

A man and his son throwing a baseball, the son in pajamas.

A couple on their front porch, their baby finally asleep.

The trickle of running water: a backyard fountain.

The tomato-and-oregano scent when I walk past the back door of the little neighborhood Italian restaurant, the clang of pans.

A door slamming.

The breeze kicking up, a shift in the weather, clouds piling up against the mountains.

And then home again, to my humble house that is not a beach-cabin getaway, but home.

Only home, always home,  and mine.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

This is a good life:

A peanut butter sandwich and a dill pickle on a table covered with a red and white flowered cloth.

Sun and blue sky, a chair in the shade.

A baby crow in the honey locust and a baby hummingbird in the hazelnut.

A novel -- Benediction, by Kent Haruf -- so good that I don't want it to end.

Nothing I must do.