Hope & Infinite Hope

I drove up to the Skagit today to visit my mom in her new place. Going north on I-5, we approached an overpass, with a chain link fence. My eyes drifted to the one word someone had woven into the steel: HOPE. The lettering was crooked. But it stood out against a caged sky.

If they looked up, all drivers could see it. Couldn’t photograph it. Because you’re barreling up the highway doing 65 or 70. It made me smile.

Of course it conjures Obama. Of course it brings up the resistance of now. That one simple word reminded me: we are all human. We all feel hope. We all live through despair. We all overcome. We sometimes utterly fail. But there is always hope. In unexpected places.

Driving south after our visit, I wasn’t expecting anything else related to HOPE. What I do, in my day-to-day, is try to keep my own fire burning. Optimism and peace are things I go for. In the past, I’ve done the opposite. I’ve lived my roiling years. But that way destroys me.

On the same fence, somewhere around Lynnwood, the same person had woven the words INFINITE HOPE. I smiled.Going north, HOPE. Going south, INFINITE HOPE.

Today, my sister, sister-in-law, nephew, our babysitter and a bunch of people we know marched in NYC, DC, Seattle & Bellingham. I know turnouts were huge and that makes me so happy.

We are a united people, and I feel so reassured.

My New Year’s

This new year’s I’m committing to more connection with friends, more self-care and less running around. I know we’re all busy with family, work and all sorts of commitments. But it gets to be too much, and we move from one thing to the next so fast now. There’s no reflection. I know I need that. And to just exhale.

For myself, I’m swimming which I love. I’ll apply for at least 3 writers’ residencies and see how I do. And I’ve got to send my story around before March 31.

For myself, I’m swimming which I love. I’ll apply for at least 3 writers’ residencies and see how I do. And I’ve got to send my story around before March 31.

I’ve invited a few cool women to a monthly women’s group so we’ll see how that goes. I also need to READ more. I’ve been pretty lazy in the department.

My goals for Jack are around his reading, social life and sports. I’ve ramped up his reading time and it’s starting to show – it’s really coming along. I’d love him to be reading Harry Potter in a year. It’s definitely a stretch goal!

We’ve kept up his Special Olympics sports since summer when golf started – golf was a surprise winner, and my friend just gave us some hand-me-down clubs. It’s a small gesture but I need to let the good things just build and expand like that. As far as the sports, I’m keeping an open mind and seeing what fits well for him. He’s done basketball with S.O. but it was mostly adults, so that wasn’t perfect. His swimming starts next week and I’ll report on his progress here. I know there are more kids in swimming. He’s taken 1:1 lessons for most of his life but it’s still hard to put it all together for crawl stroke. His S.O. team will practice in the deep end so he’ll have to break his habit of kicking off the floor of the shallow end. It’s probably just what he needs, and I’ll be in there to spot him.

So, into the new year, bravely. Slowing down, though, is a priority. I think I’ve already proven I’m capable of doing a lot. This year is about doing less, and doing the things that matter most. Ready, steady: Go!

Letting Jack Steer

I love December but it’s such a charged month. I have my birthday, it’s Christmas, New Year’s…so much of the “big wow,” so many lists to make.

This is one of those years where everything is late and I am A-OK with it.

I just can’t fit everything in with my job. It’s also been Jack’s first four months in middle school, a pretty big adjustment. With two weeks off school now, and days off coming up for me, it’s time to exhale.

We got our tree on Wednesday night. We went to Fred Meyer and the selection was super picked over because the prices are good there. You should’ve seen how determined Jack was. He picked out pretty much the first tree he saw, leaning there at the end of the aisle. He couldn’t be talked into checking out the rest of them. Nope. He wanted that tree.

So he grabs the enormous blue metal cart and pushes it over. We lay the tree on it (it’s pretty small) and the three of us head inside. We let Jack steer.

The cart is super unwieldy for him and it takes up the width of the aisles as we head to the check out. Most people smile a little and wait for Jack to thread this thing between the shelves of garden supplies and tables of fleece blankets. We get to the check out, and Jack’s having a hard time maneuvering the cart into the line. The tree branches keep getting stuck in racks of cheap sweaters. Jack backs up to get the wheels right, and this prevents anyone from getting around him.

People coming into the store have to stop for Jack, the cart and his tree. This one guy is put off immediately. I can see the impatience in his face.

People coming into the store have to stop for Jack, the cart and his tree. This one guy is put off immediately. I can see the impatience in his face. He’s probably trying to get in and out of the store in five minutes. But it’s a maze of bras on one side and jingle bell socks on the other, and he can’t get around. He glances at Jack and puffs out his disdain, realizing this kid ain’t gonna figure this out in one second.

I just observe this. I don’t run to help Jack and I don’t apologize to the many jerks who encounter my kid with their impatience and disdain. I’ve seen this movie before. My job is to let the kid steer.

Today is the 18th and I’m just putting the wreath on the door. And instead of my usual thinking of “the wreath should be on the door by (insert date here),” I took more joy in decorating it with Jack before it goes outside. We grabbed three of the silver bells that Mom used to buy us every year and wrapped them around with yarn. Then we took a big red ribbon and I tied a bow. I’d rather be happy going through the motions of Christmas than ramming everything through the “should” tunnel.

I’d rather be happy going through the motions of Christmas than ramming everything through the “should” tunnel.

I used to go this Advent Quiet Morning at St. Andrew’s. It’s just a circle of shy folks sitting in upholstered wing back chairs in a small book-lined room. Many, and me included, bring a composition book to journal in as we sip coffee and take a morning off. I loved it because it forced me to take time for reflection in the busiest season of the year.

Once on those shelves, I found a pocket-sized book about setting expectations with your kids around Christmas. I read it for probably a half hour. I remember it said that children need boundaries more than ever as Christmas approaches. The best way to prepare them is to tell them it will be happy, you will get nice things but we’re not going to overwhelm you with presents. The time together is the thing. I’ve been telling him that.

I also realize I need an Advent Quiet Morning at least every month of the year!

So many of us are striving for balance. For me, I get to the pool where I’m feeling stronger and stronger. It’s my peace. And it’s actually time for lap swim. Grabbing the Speedo now!

Welcome Home, Dancer

I took the dog for a long walk at Magnuson today. We did the loop first, past the beach and around the curve at the dog run. Then we looped again and headed to the wetlands. It’s all yellow heart-shaped leaves right now.

I just got home from a trip back east where I spent time with my family and three old friends. Fantastic to be with them. And, really important, we said bon voyage to my nephew who moved to London (luck-ee!!).

My trip started in Boston. From the airport, my friend and I drove to Cambridge which looked great on a Friday night. The Border Cafe was perfect — loud Mexican music, veggie fajitas and lots of catching up. I wore my Seahawks hat. Saturday night was a little jam session with a few guitars, harmonicas and mandolin. We flipped through the Beatles and Paul Simon songbooks and picked out tunes we all know (and that I could play). Everyone was much better than me but singing and playing together was a blast.

Then we turned on SNL and watched Kate McKinnon sing Hallelujah. Heartbreaking, the whole thing.

Then we turned on SNL and watched Kate McKinnon sing Hallelujah. Heartbreaking, the whole thing.

On Sunday I wore my Russell Wilson jersey and my hat into Gillette Stadium. Brave girl, I am. I got heckled: Hey Seattle! Welcome to New England! this guy jeered, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Um, it’s not my first time here. I spent two years in Worcester, including…wintering over at 39 Birch Street in the back room without any heat. So I’m kinda familiar.

Nature spoke to me as I rode the train from Boston to Newark. This is the same line I’d ride to Providence, at 16, visiting my sister at Wheaton. I sat on the left side of the train, randomly, but was glad I chose it, because I had views of Long Island Sound as we wheeled south. The clouds that day were the high paintbrush kind, some curving left, others wisping right on a canvas of blue. Welcome home, Dancer, those brushstrokes in their arabesques seemed to say.

The clouds that day were the high paintbrush kind, some curving left, others wisping right on a canvas of blue. Welcome home, Dancer, those brushstrokes in their arabesques seemed to say.

Hanging out with my family in NJ filled me up. Needed that! Then I braved driving alone to northern NJ to visit an old friend and her family. Thank goodness for Maps because one road was completely closed and I really had no idea how to get to her small town. What’s that thing about traveling challenges you?

I was much more confident driving back to my brother’s. As I cruised through “The Oranges,” as the big sign says, I flipped on WFMU. I thought of the great DJs that, in my time with FMU, were: Vanilla Bean with his hilarious stories, Pat who played punk on Sunday nights, the lovable Irwin. Across the airwaves a singer sang about the “good of life” and then the DJ put on…Playing in the Band! It definitely appealed to my superstitious radio thing where I believe that messages you need to hear come through at the right times.

Great to be on the east coast where you can enjoy Dunkin Donuts, Italian food and reality.

Great to be on the east coast where you can enjoy Dunkin Donuts, Italian food and reality.

And now I’m back. In the hinterlands of Seatown. I’m super refreshed. Traveling rejuvenates you and urges you to recommit to your own life. Which I do, gladly.

wetlands3

Aquatic Disturbance in Lane 5

Cast of Characters
Girl in the Cobalt Cap
Must Do Breast Stroke (MDBS)
Beard Guy
Me

Notice the women have no issue sharing the lane. The Girl in the Cobalt Cap and I pass each other like stringbeans floating in the night. We keep an equal distance. No drama, no aggressive splashing, no smashing of hands in the air as you pass.

Not so for MDBS. Every time I pass him I wince and thread myself faster through my space because I might get smashed. His kick takes up 3/4 of the lane, and technically, each of us just has half of it.

Do you know Templeton the rat from Charlotte’s Web? The Paul Lynde version? When he says he doesn’t want to get kicked or biffed or scratched as they crowd into Wilbur’s crate? That’s how I feel with MDBS.

I do flip turns occasionally, especially at the beginning of my swim. But more often, I get to the wall, touch it, take a breath and kick off. Right before the wall, I sometimes roll onto my back like a river otter, for flair. At one point, my head’s out of the water and I’m taking my breath, and MDBS, with his face screwed up, asks me if I know what time it is. He tells me he doesn’t have his glasses.

What time is it? Time for me to not get cracked in the rib by your crappy breaststroke kick, that’s what time it is!

Just because I’m a girl, sorry, I’m not here to serve you. Bring your glasses if you need to know the time in the middle of lap swim. I’m not your time-keeper!

I look at the clock. “It’s about five to 6:00,” I say.

What time is it? Time for me to not get cracked in the rib by your crappy breaststroke kick, that’s what time it is!

Just because I’m a girl, sorry, I’m not here to serve you. Bring your glasses if you need to know the time in the middle of lap swim. I’m not your time-keeper!

I look at the clock. “It’s about five to 6:00,” I say.

MDBS also attempts butterfly. But his body is more vertical than horizontal and his arms flail as he tries it.

When I catch sight of this through my periphery — already blurred by my fogged-up goggles — I wonder: is this a drowning person? Do I have to pull out my rusty lifesaving skills because the lifeguards are probably distracted by noodles and water toys? I don’t think I want to grab this guy around the chest at the bottom of the pool…

So I set a good rhythm and stay away from MDBS. In the shallow end, I adjust my goggles and spy the other guy in our lane coming up. I move to the side. As he turns at the wall, his head comes up. It’s all goggles and beard. He pauses, looks at me and breathes straight on me. Dude! I don’t want your exhale in my face! Dag!

So I dodge MDBS’s heel and stay out of Beard Guy’s mad breathing scheme. Dag!

Let me share the lane with Cobalt Girl any day.

When Bobby D. Wins the Nobel Prize

I think of my parents. The Freewheelin’ album standing on the furniture bookcase, the black and white Baez album beside it. Newport Folk behind that. The needle sinking into the groove. The record rising and falling as it goes round and round. I won’t be able to reach the turntable for a long time.

I think of Lucas. Lying around his bedroom in 10th grade while Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts plays, loud on his fancy stereo. His dark hair long on his shoulders, his wizardry with a joint, his violin in the corner. His mom at the other end of the house, occupied with something else. Feeling saturated and swirling with the poetry and volume of it all.

I think of my brother. Cranking up Idiot Wind on Hard Rain, both of us singing louder as the verses surged and snarled. Dylan rhyming on daydreams, losing battles and destiny. Me in the mix of all that. I was 15 and couldn’t release a thing. But I had my brother and his band of friends who protected me.

I think of Yariv at Clark with the New York Times folded under his arm and his faded backpack weighted with Philo 200 books. His obsession with Dylan above all else. We all watched him pretend. But we laughed together, drove our miles and marched our marches.

So when Dylan wins the Nobel Prize, we’re not surprised. These are the lyrics that keep you turning the pages. I put on Idiot Wind and think of all the letters I wrote. To Grandma in Sarasota. To Hillary when her family left for California after her sister’s death. To Alice at Wheaton. To Lester-loo in Seattle during my 20s…list goes on. It’s cold and stormy out. The giant cypresses on the alley are twisting and thrashing. It’s actually the tail end of a typhoon.

Sandcastle Boy

Salt wind veers off a broken tower.
Peak tumbles to rippled sand
as tide switches under low clouds.

He scoops wet sand in a green pail
clump after clump, dripping
thick on a lifted shovel.

He flips the pail and towers emerge —
brief kingdom. The waves race, sand spills down
leaving the hull, a lump of gray

like his body, crumpled and buckling
limbs pulsing, fists beating thin air
eyelids in tremor, lips gone blue.

Grasses bend past the tide line.
Eagle hangs in north breeze over bluff
a pinned corpse against the sky.