Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Christmas Report

The tree is up and decorated with my mom's crocheted snowflakes.

Some quartz crystals  and a homemade elf have "winterized" the mantel.

Carolers are singing on the kitchen island.

I splurged on poinsettias for the first time in years.

Even the red car next door looks like a Christmas decoration.

I'm not expecting Santa, but I am full of joy, knowing that I will soon have a houseful of people I love.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Beach Report

Big waves. Strong light. Sand bermed up, water pooling into salty lakes, debris etching the sand.

There were many birds taking advantage of the pools of water, and on the dry sand there were turkey vultures. Maybe they were displaced by the fires. Maybe they heard the crash of the waves and knew there would be carnage for them to feast on. Turkey vultures do show up on the beach from time to time--but they're not a regular feature.

Later this afternoon at home, I sat in my bedroom, reading, and the door to the hall was open.  I looked up and caught a beam of light sitting in the chair. The days are short, but the light is dramatic this time of year--both inside and out.

Dream on the Eve of My Birthday

"Look how high the water in the marina is," my friend Sasha said. We all ran to the window to see it lapping the edges of the sidewalk. Going from window to widow, we checked the water's progress every few minutes, but the level held steady. 

"It's okay," I said, "but what about all these dogs?" The neighbors had a small pool and a jacuzzi, and nine large black dogs took turns jumping in and out of the water. When I looked more closely, I saw that one was an ape. "That's not good," I said as the ape came to the fence between our two yards. He could climb over that, I thought. I ran to a basement bedroom and barricaded the door.


When I talked to a friend this morning, he told me he'd had a dream last night about seeing someone walking some big dogs. And he dreamed about a chimpanzee in a car. We talked about the Chinese zodiac for a while, but couldn't make sense of anything. I was born in the year of the dragon. Water dragon, I think, to be more specific. At least that makes a little sense. The water is rising.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


The Thanksgiving table is already set. There are pies on the kitchen island. In the fridge there are casserole dishes filled with "sweet potato surprise" and stuffing. A friend is driving for three hours to get here, and other friends from down the street are coming too. A friend that I wish could be here just had a knee replacement and is in the hospital. Family is far away because we've all come to our senses about travel on Thanksgiving weekend. Two years ago I tried to drive to my son's house the Friday before Thanksgiving. Everyone in southern California, it seemed, was leaving for an early start on the holiday. It took eight or nine hours to get as far as Indio which should be a three hour drive. I got a motel and continued on the next day.

Sweet potato surprise is a a recipe from one of Molly Kaizen's cookbooks. You can assemble it a day ahead, and if I recall, guests swooned over it when I made it some years back. I hope I'm remembering that correctly. It's good for a guessing game anyway. Do I taste apples? Ginger? Really? There are bananas in here? The stuffing is even more fun. I never make it quite the same way twice. This year I bought a completely different kind of sausage from the farmer's market. We'll see. Love is the secret ingredient in everything, that's all I know.

Across the country my daughters and their partners will be having their own Thanksgiving in the duplex they bought together. Maybe next year I'll be having Thanksgiving with them. Life is full of surprises. That would be a sweet one. One thing is for sure--this is my last Thanksgiving in this house here by the water in a state that I used to think of as paradise. The word paradise now conjures a town that was obliterated by one of California's latest fires, and in that bereft place ghosts of loved ones will visit tables that have turned to ash.

Since Dan died four and a half years ago I open my eyes thankful each morning, amazed to be breathing. Breath is such a simple thing until you've watched it leave the body. In these post-apocalyptic fire days, that feeling of being alive flattens me to the mattress for a minute when I open my eyes to find myself still here. I've read that people get happier as they get older. Maybe that's what's happening.  I'll be 66 on Saturday. That's a nice amount of happiness. Happiness ends, I guess, when we stop breathing, so for now I'm breathing in happiness and breathing out love. I wish that for you too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

This Present Chaos

view from the living room window in St. Paul

Once upon a time I was married, and one Sunday afternoon the man I was married to told me the marriage was over and that he would be marrying someone else. Oh, and he and his new wife wanted the house so they could raise their new family there in the house where my husband and I had raised our daughters.

This blog was born out of the chaos that ensued, and in that time this blog had another name, which by a court order, I was required to change. I had another name then too. But my old self had plans in that time of chaos. I would leave California and live in a new place with my new name, and so I bought a condo in St. Paul, Minnesota not too terribly far from the little town in Iowa where I grew up.

Plans. Plans are good. But I fell in love with a man in Los Angeles. Love is better than plans. So I stayed in California, and first one daughter and then the other--and for a brief while both of the daughters and both their partners lived in the condo in St. Paul. Years have passed. The man I fell in love with after a first date on post-card blue sky day in Griffith Park got lung cancer and died four years ago. My mother died nine months later. Sometime in the next year I will leave the house I shared with my mother and where the man who loved me took his final breaths. My budget must shrink to fit my shrinking alimony.

Last week the daughters and their partners  moved into a house of their own. I'm not in my 50s anymore, and I do not want to live in the lovely condo on the 3rd floor of a historic building with no elevator. I am too historic to cross the icy alleyway to garage without falling down. Too historic to trudge up all those stairs with bags of groceries.

In this new chaos there will be painting, and floor sanding, and odd little fix-it tasks, and way too much cleaning. There will be too many books, and what do I keep and what do I sell, and what do I give away conversations inside my head that must eventually translate into some kind of action.

In some months, I'll start a new life somewhere else. I'm envisioning a tall building with an elevator and a view of the Mississippi River.

this present chaos

Saturday, September 29, 2018

I believe Christine Blasey Ford

I think the place I wondered into for dinner was called the Mad Rose. A good place to go on the night when you are mad and going to see a movie about a mad king.

I watched her testimony. I watched Kavanaugh's. That night when I'd had enough, I took myself out to dinner and to the Fathom Events' "King Lear" with Ian McKellan--a film of the play from London, captured live. "Lear" is a typical Shakespeare tragedy, by which I mean almost everyone dies. It felt like a party. Popcorn and my silent cheers every time another manipulative character met his/her bloody end. Though I flinched and squirmed when Cornwall gouged out the good Gloucester's eyes. Earlier in front of the TV, I'd felt like gouging out my own.

Christine Blasey Ford walked into an environment where she knew no one except the small coterie of lawyers, husband, and maybe another few persons that she'd brought with her. She was in a room mostly populated by men to talk about being sexually assaulted. In a strange city. In a different time zone. Participating in a process she knew so little about that she was surprised to learn just a few weeks earlier, that she'd need a lawyer. She was there to tell what had happened to her 36 years  earlier. A story of assault and how she'd feared for her life. A hazy story with many of its details lost to memory's inherent failings while other details had drilled themselves into her being.

Dr. Ford suffers from anxiety. Check. She suffers from claustrophobia. Check. She's afraid to fly. Check. Yet she flew to D.C. to appear at the hearing. Check. While the fear of flying yet flying conundrum seemed to puzzle a few people, I wasn't one of them. I am afraid to fly. Flying is anxiety and claustrophobia combined. But I have to fly if I want to get to the places I need to go. I need an aisle seat. Near the front or the rear of the cabin. I need booze. I need the strange man sitting next to me not to touch me. Not his leg against my leg. Not his arm against mine. I need more booze. I need something completely engaging to read. Preferably something somewhat terrifying. Though not something terrifying about flying. Terror to cure terror. A weird homeopathy.  I might watch a movie if there's an appealing one offered, but if there's genuine emotional content, often I will sob uncontrollably--like I did recently when I watched the the Mr. Rogers movie on the way back from Minnesota. Love and its companion emotions  move us in the face of terror. Those are the moments during the hearing that Christine Blasey Ford cried.

Bret Kavanaugh was in his element. D.C. Familiar faces. Scores of men ready to believe him, rooting for him, the esteemed federal judge. Yet he came in full of bluster and protest. He would not or could not answer many questions directly. I might believe that he believes that he did not attack Dr. Ford. But that doesn't mean that he didn't attack her. In the best case scenario that I can imagine the Bret Kavanaugh of then and the Bret Kavanaugh of now might not know one another, but there was a struggle going on inside the weeping man blustering and bullying in order to protect his honor. A knock-down, belligerent, eye-gouging battle wherein the now Bret would pluck out the "vile jelly" in order to not see the past Bret.

I was such a stupid 15-year-old. I would not have survived the wild 80s in a big anonymous suburb brimming with affluence and influence. But I know how boys can be boys. In 1970 I went to a party in the woods after prom with my date. A bonfire, the night night sky through the treetops. Stars in my eyes. Romance. A perfecting ending to big event of senior year. But the only other girl was leaving just as I arrived. "Hey, why don't you pull a train for us?" one of the football players asked minutes later. I didn't know what that phrase meant. I'd never heard it. The look in that boy's eyes told me. The laughter of the other boys told me. I remember all their faces in the firelight. And their names. I remember how my date escorted me back to the car and we left.

I want to hear the testimony from the other women who've accused Kavanaugh and those who have told about his drinking. There are so many survivors of sexual assault. I want those stories. Terror to cure terror. Voices to give voice. Every time a woman speaks, another woman will speak. I have to believe that story by story, vote by vote, jail sentence by jail sentence, impeachment by impeachment, change will push its way forward. And I believe that the good men, even those who have suffered from the madness of not understanding, of not believing will, like Lear, come around to see the truth of their own tragedy.

Get thee glass eyes, 
And like a scurvy politician seem 
To see the things thou dost not. 
---(Lear to the blinded Gloucester)

Saturday, September 22, 2018


I don’t remember the name of the colleague who almost strangled me.  Not his first name. Not his last. I remember he had a wrestler’s body and that he could vault over the couch on the set of the play we were in like a gymnast. I remember that he had me pinned to the front seat of my car before I knew what hit me. 

I don’t remember the name of the person who had the cast party. Or the name of the street that it was on. Only that the house was severed from the street and the street from its neighborhood by the Hollywood Freeway.  It was a no-man’s land. Dead-ended. A cluster of marooned houses reachable only by a dark broken-up path.  

I don’t remember what year it was. 1975, or 76, or 77. I don’t remember the name of the play. I can tell you the name of the theatre though, and so with some investigation these other details could be found out. What I remember is how terrifying it was to feel his thumbs pressing hard into my windpipe. Come with me to my place. You have to come with me to my place now, he said. I couldn’t muster enough breath to dissent.

I don’t remember what I was wearing exactly. Maybe a skirt. But probably pants—jeans, I think. What I remember is my black silk shirt, soaked with sweat and fear. I remember knowing that if I could manage to scream, no one would hear me over the freeway’s roar.

I don’t remember how I drove myself home when I was able to talk him out of his plan. But I remember that my boyfriend at the time dissuaded me from taking any action. The police probably won’t do anything, he said. And it would be your word against his. Why don’t you just avoid him?


I remember my rapist’s first name. It was Jerry. We’d just met. He was the Pepsi bottler sponsoring the show I was in. He was supposed to take me out to dinner, but he was late. Very late. I waited for him at the hotel bar. The drinks were strong. He and the bartender seemed to know one another. But I can’t prove anything. 

I remember this was in Indiana. 1979. Maybe South Bend. Maybe Indianapolis. I don’t remember the name of the hotel. I’ll walk you to your room, Jerry said. With a shove, he was inside. Another shove, and he was on top of me. You know you want it he said. You know you want it--until he was through.

I didn’t want it. But I wanted my job. I wanted the money I was making. I wanted my success. I remember what I wanted and what I didn’t want.

I didn’t tell my boyfriend. I already knew what he would say. Your word against his. And weren’t you drunk?

Some things are easy to remember. Some are easy to forget. Some things must be pushed to memory’s deep dark places if you want to survive.  People question what you don't remember and confuse it with what you want to forget. 

Boys will be boys, people say. You must be mistaken, they say. Pillar of the community. Rising star. Don’t ruin his career. Don’t ruin his family. So we are the ones who are ruined. Senators tearing off our clothes. Orrin Hatch holding us down. Chuck Grassely’s thumbs pressing into our windpipes. But somehow we must fight until we are heard. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Dreams in Pink Madras

 I was at a party, and there he was. He pulled up a chair across from me, our knees nearly touching. There was a table to our right where we set our drinks. "You're back," I said. I meant back from the dead. He nodded."You look good. God, you look so good." And really, Dan had never looked better. He looked rested, and the skin on his hands and face was smooth. A life of hard work, erased. I took his face in my hands and our eyes locked.
"You know I can't stay," he said.

The dream was thin--a whisper, a shadow. The party was something about books. My friend Elizabeth was there. Our eyes met. I looked at her as if to say, don't breathe a word about this visit from the other world. She nodded.

"I love your shirt," I said to Dan, though it was nothing like I'd ever seen him wear in real life. The shirt was a pink madras plaid with a button-down collar. And he might have been wearing an earring.

That's all I remember.


Clothing seems to figure rather prominently into my dreams about Dan. The stylish jacket and designer sunglasses he wore when he turned up at my house with the gorgeous blond; the long red skirt, tight pants, bolero, kimono, and two hats he was wearing the time he wanted to take me to the balloon festival. Now pink madras. What does it all mean? No idea.

But I do know this: Saturday night I had friends over. We ate on the patio even though it was chilly. "Here. Wear the guest polar-fleece," I told the friend who'd only brought shorts and a t-shirt. It was Dan's jacket I offered him. One of two jackets Dan habitually wore, and I keep it in the armoire next to the front door. I ended up wearing the other jacket that night. I went upstairs to use the bathroom, and realized I was a bit cold too. When I went into my closet to find something warm, there was Dan's blue jacket. It matched my shirt perfectly so I put it on. What a beautiful jacket, everyone said when I came downstairs. So there we were, partying on the patio in Dan's jackets,warm bodies in the cold night air, connecting this world to the next.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Feeding Birds

2012, Mom's birthday 

I began feeding the birds for my mother. Housebound by the frailties of age and the attitude that going out was too much trouble, she needed a connection to the outside world, I thought.

My earliest memory is of my mother and her mother wielding garden hoes in an attempt to fend off a snake attacking a nest of baby birds. I'd awakened from a nap and stretched myself taller than the windowsill to watch the drama unfold outside her bedroom. "Get him, Ethel!" my grandmother shrieked at her namesake. "You get him, Ethel," my mom yelled back, addressing her mother by her given name instead of calling her mom. The two Ethels wacked away, and as I recall, emerged victorious although the senior Ethel's askew babushka made her look something like a pirate. My mom probably lit herself a cigarette right there in the bushes while coo-ing over the baby birds before they went on to whatever task they'd meant to do in the first place.

my babushka-wearing, gun-toting grandma (the gun and the old car was staged by one of my uncles)

We lived on the backwater of the Mississippi then in a town known for its lax liquor laws and an easier attitude toward certain recreational pursuits that were frowned upon on in its sister city on the other side of the river. I was too young to know about any of that, but I knew about the birds. Cranes soared over the water and we raced out the back door to watch them, and if flocks of geese were winging and quacking overhead, we tilted our faces skyward until they were out of sight. Cardinals and red-headed wood peckers provided breathtaking displays of scarlet against the dark bark of a big tree where my father had nailed a wooden fruit crate. It was my mother and I who kept it stocked with seeds and nuts and bread crusts.

Indoors we kept a green parakeet named Jerry. "Jerry is a dirty bird" was his only attempt at conversation. Or maybe his line was, "Jerry is a pretty bird," and it was my mother who tried to pressure a confession from him while she cleaned up his messes after a free-flying afternoon. I wonder now about our kitchen hygiene since it was there he was allowed out of his cage, an old bedsheet tacked up in the doorway to the living room to keep him from pooping on the upholstered furniture. But nobody died--except Jerry of course, eventually.

Jerry didn't make it to the next house which was on the more sedate side of the river--a good thing, probably, since we became cat fanciers and often had a half-dozen kittens and cats prowling around. My brother and I found a baby owl on a sidewalk there. My mother couldn't locate the nest it might have fallen from, so she put it in a box padded with an old towel on our back porch. I'm sure she took some measure or another to nurse it back to health, but in the morning, it was dead.

Years later when they were both widows my mother and her twin sister had an apartment with a patio and fed all kinds of birds--including a large vulture that was attracted to a suet cake meant for a pileated woodpecker. I'd had some experience feeding birds by then, but I specialized in finches that I fed from a feeder suction-cupped to my breakfast nook window where my young daughters could enjoy them. Decades later, when my mom moved in with me in a different house, I bought a similar feeder and stuck it to our kitchen window. We remarked on the birds nearly every day. Some red house finches, some orange. We welcomed the sparrows too--the white crowned sparrow, the diva of an underrated species with its flashy striped head, and the house sparrow so dapper in its dark cravat.

One of my daughters lived with us part-time then while going to grad school. She might have been the one to notice the blind finch being fed by a bird with two good eyes. Over the next few days there were more and more blind finches. "Poor things," my mother said. "How do they fly?" Fearing that I'd unwittingly committed this horror of an avian Equus, I examined the feeder and the potted tree next to it for sharp edges only to find nothing. It was the internet that educated me about bird conjunctivitis and proper feeder hygiene. Jerry the parakeet could poop in the kitchen sink with no apparent ill effects on us humans, but I had to wash the bird feeder with soap and a drop of bleach in hot water every week.

My mother and I both took to the new regimen. She could clean anything with the same fervor she employed to dispatch a marauding snake, and over time no new blind finches appeared. Occasionally we spotted a different bird--a towhee, or a warbler, and once we glimpsed a bird such a bright yellow, it might have been an escaped pet canary. The first ring-necked dove appeared some weeks or months after my boyfriend Dan died. It was one of those moments when you think your deceased beloved has re-appeared or at least delivered to you a sign that you should not despair. The bird watched us with its big dark eyes. Friends were here for dinner, as I recall. "Look who wants to come inside," someone said.

Sometime later the dove began bringing a mate, and I'd take a handful of food and lay it atop the wall between my house and the neighbor's since these birds seemed too big for the feeder. If I was upstairs and missed their arrival my mother would call, "Your doves are here!" as if dinner guests had just rung the doorbell. The doves would probably still be enjoying my handouts even though my mom is no longer here to announce them, but a squirrel began terrorizing the bird feeder just after the 2017 presidential inauguration. It was a tumble-down of decline then, as we well know. First one squirrel, then another, and the squirrels could not be dissuaded so I removed the feeder before I went away to a month-long writer's residency. When I returned my flowers were infested with some kind of a worm despite the best efforts of the friend caring for them. Since we all know that the early bird gets the worm, I put the bird feeder up again. The doves, the sparrows, and the finches  came back--but so did a hoard of pigeons, making Jerry's efforts to defile the kitchen look like child's play. While it's true the pigeon poop was outside, on some surfaces it took a putty knife and boiling water to remove it, and the pigeons' constant coital-sounding cooing had me wondering if the neighbors should maybe soundproof their house until I realized this birds and bees thing was really just birds.

Like the squirrels, the pigeons wouldn't be dissuaded either, so with strips of that rubbery stuff that you can use as shelf lining or rug padding and some packing tape, I constructed a barrier around the my bird feeder that allowed only the smaller birds inside. When it came time to wash the feeder, I had to un-tape all the strips, wash them as well, and start over. A few weeks of that led to a splurge on a feeder with a cage around it. The new feeder, though I called it bird jail at first, is working well. The pigeons are feeding at my neighbor's unsecured feeder on the other side of the house and pooping over there. But I feel terrible  about the doves. They can't get into the new feeder either. They still arrive every couple of days, fluttering around the bird jail, confused. I look into their deep black eyes staring into my house full of worldly comforts and think of Dan and my mom and how we all were here just a little more than four years ago. Four years is a long time.

Christmas, 2012

I want to say something political here. About the elapsing of time until the next presidential election. And something about jail. Who belongs inside and who should be let out, but maybe it's best not to stretch the metaphor. I'll just quote my dad when he began to worry during my teenage years. "Birds of a feather flock together," he told me.

bird jail

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What is isn't, What isn't is

We're breaking records here. Hottest summer. Most fires. Now the biggest fire ever in California's is no longer the biggest. All over the globe there's been the highest high and the lowest low.

And this is the longest in my blogging history since I've blogged. I'm reading instead. Glued to the news. Thinking about how things look like one thing and are really another or, even worse,  that things are exactly as they appear and yet we are mired in inaction.

As still as this heron. How perfectly camouflaged, I thought. Nature is so brilliant. No fish will see that heron coming. Look closely. See it there against the wall to the left of the post on the boat dock? It moved its neck just a second before I went to get the binoculars to check it out more closely.

But it's not a heron at all. It's a piece of sun bleached algae or paper stuck to the wall. The "neck" moves because it's not completely adhered.

Remember this?  Can you tell a satellite dish from a heron? How about shit from Shinola?

Here's a beached sea lion.

And this, in actuality, is a rather crowded beach.

And this? That piece of stone there in the middle?

Well, it could be my heart--because don't we have to harden our hearts to survive this mess? I suppose there's an argument for that. But for now, I'm just letting the news break my heart every single day. If we can't feel the trouble we're in, our brains will atrophy too.

One thing for sure, I know whale shit when I see it.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

I showed up for this.

I have been in the worst mood this past week. Not sleeping. Then sleeping during the day. I haven't been to yoga. I haven't shown up for myself in any way. I haven't been reading the manuscript I said I'd read for a friend. Last night I had a gin and tonic and a bowl of nuts for dinner. Tonight ice cream. In my pajamas. At 6 p.m. But I made a sign last night.

And today I showed up for this.

Some days I love my fellow humans. 

Dear fellow compassionate humans, I wish you well.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Morning Beach Report

Who has time to walk on the beach anymore when gluing one's self to the news seems the most important thing to do? Somewhere in the distance there must be someone or something that can save us. Or so we hope. And hope. And hope. And we are doing things to support those hopes. But still.

We can't see the forest for the trees most days. This story. That story. Personally, I'm obsessed with Paul Manafort. I keep going to the website of the institution where he is jailed to check and re-check that he's still inside.

Meanwhile there is a place called Santa Cruz Island. I'm training to lead hikes there. On this island where there is no cable TV, there is the Channel Islands Fox. This fox is an island dwarf that does not exist outside of the Channel Islands. Smaller than a regular fox--a mere four pounds or so--due to it's fluffiness it appears to be the size of a house cat. There. I hope I've transported you to somewhere else for a moment. Let us ponder how things can get smaller when everything else looms large.

And when things loom large, perhaps we should think of this.

In any event,"my" beach looked like this today.

I hope you are well. Sending love.