where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

The Writers Are Coming

    DSC00865When I opened this week’s Sunday Seattle Times, the first thing I saw was a big color ad for commemorative Super Bowl 48 bookends. Fully sculpted, cold-cast bronze, showing “Seahawks players in action!” Not available in stores! And only $49.99, payable in two easy installments!

I looked up “cold-cast bronze” so you won’t have to. It means the sculpture is made from a resin mixed with powdered bronze, which gives it a surface, quote, “similar to traditionally cast bronze, at a fraction of the cost.” Just FYI.

But what struck me about the ad was this: why bookends? In what way do books relate to football? Why not just make a Seahawks Super Bowl cold-cast bronze statue to place on the coffee table in front of the flat-screen TV, so you can see it every time you fire up ESPN?

Maybe the Bradford Exchange Collectibles people heard about one of Seattle’s other claims to fame, which is that we are one of the most literate cities in the country. The second, after Washington DC, for the fourth year in a row. The Central Connecticut State University study tracks six factors: number of bookstores, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and newspaper circulation.

Or maybe the cold-cast bronze makers got wind of Seattle author Ryan Boudinot’s campaign to get the United Nations to declare Seattle an official UNESCO City of Literature. A part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities program, such a designation would not only acknowledge what we all know—Seattleites love books—but help us share that news with the world. And doesn’t “UNESCO City of Literature” sound much cooler than second most literate city?

Which brings me to an event happening this week, in downtown Seattle. It’s what you might call the Super Bowl of literary conferences. Known as AWP for short, the 2014 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs will bring some twelve thousand people and 650 exhibitors—literary magazines, small and mid-sized presses, MFA programs, writer’s retreats, organizations, booksellers—to the Washington State Convention Center. So if you’re walking downtown and you see people with big convention badges, they could be poets or novelists or professors or publishers. You might see some of our local authors—Tess Gallagher, Sherman Alexie, David Guterson. Or legendary writers from further afield: Ursula K. LeGuin, Annie Proulx, Gary Snyder, Sharon Olds. I could go on. At great length. But I’ve got to save a little mojo, because I plan on attending as much of AWP as I can. There are 550 events to choose from, and that doesn’t even count the off-site readings, at bookstores, bars, museums and theatres all over town.

So. Seattle. Order those Super Bowl bookends—or hey, build or sculpt your own—and then go out and buy some books to put between them. Or start writing a book. Or take a writing class, or go to a reading.

Many of the AWP off-site readings are open to the public. I’m taking part in one of them myself, Thursday night at the Frye Art Museum. I love that I live in a city where this is possible. Not too many of us get to actually play NFL football. But we can all be on Seattle’s UNESCO-worthy team of literature-lovers.

Calendar Notes: I’ll be reading from my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain (forthcoming this fall from She Writes Press) as part of Witnessing Dementiaan AWP off-site event at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum at 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 27. Also on the program: Tess Gallagher, Holly Hughes and Esther Helfgott. On March 16 at 3pm, in celebration of the publication of an anthology called Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (edited by Collin Tong), I’ll be reading along with some of the other authors at Elliott Bay Bookstore.


Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.



DSC00865I’m wearing two wedding rings right now: mine and my husband’s. He takes his off before he plays basketball, and he left it in the car. Our son spotted it in the cup holder and I put it on. His ring is bigger than mine. It feels heavy around my forefinger. I’m aware of it as I type. He’s not home yet, so I’m still wearing it.

These two rings I’m wearing started life as four: two cheap gold bands and two silver Claddagh rings, the traditional Irish ring in which two hands hold a crowned heart. The gold bands we bought one warm summer day on our lunch hour at a discount jeweler. We were saving money for an extended honeymoon, a round-the-world backpacking trip, so we didn’t want anything expensive.

A month later, our trip was underway, but we were spending one week apart before our Scotland wedding. Rustin was with his dad in Germany and I was in Ireland with my friend Kathy, who convinced me to buy the Claddagh rings as my wedding gift to Rus.

“The crown over the heart means ‘Let love reign,’” the Irish jeweler explained.

What could be a more perfect message?

But life can be hard on rings. About a decade or so into our married life, Rus’ gold band snapped in half. And then his silver Claddagh ring broke too. Not the most welcome developments, symbolically speaking, especially since we’d been through some class-four rapids on the old marital river and were trying to just quietly row for a while in calmer waters.

One day, I was driving past the Pratt Art Institute on Jackson Street, which is known for its jewelry and metallurgy studio, and I thought, “Of course! We’ll get a jewelry maker to fuse our rings!”

And so we did. Seattle jewelry designer Shava Lawson fused the gold bands with the silver hands, hearts and crowns, adding a dab of gold to the hearts. We’ve been wearing them ever since.

That would be 26 years and four months of wearing these symbols on our fingers with their simple message: Let Love Reign. If we were single, Irish tradition would have us turn them upside to show our availability to the next prince or princess of love that might come along. But we’re not, and sometimes it stuns me with gratitude to think for how very long we have been loyal subjects of not just love in general but this one love, our love, in particular.

It stuns me and it scares me, too. My friend Kathy’s own love story ended when she died in 2012 of cancer.

I thought of Kathy a few weeks ago when I was watching Downton Abbey. Stay with me here, even if you’re not a fan. There was a scene featuring the three bereaved characters—Tom, whose young wife Sybil died in childbirth; Mary, whose husband survived the trenches of World War One only to die in a car crash; and Mary’s mother-in-law, Isobel, who reminisced for a few uncharacteristically indulgent minutes about how she fell in love with her long-dead husband. Then Isobel said to the others, “We’re the lucky ones, aren’t we?” The lucky ones: lucky to have known love, even though all three of them were parted from love by death.

As I twist these two rings of ours, both of them strong now, thanks to Shava’s careful welding—I really can’t add to that wisdom, that grace. To know love, to let love reign for a time, long or short, over your life, is indeed to be lucky.

Love often gets a pretty bad rap this time of year. It’s easy to go dark and cynical and to grumble about the commercial bonanza that is Valentine’s Day. But for those of us who feel that humble, stunned gratitude, I say: Let love reign.

Calendar notes: I’ll be speaking and screening Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story at SUNY Oswego on February 18; I’ll be reading from Her Beautiful Brain as part of a program calledWitnessing Dementia at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum at 6:30 pm on February 27 and, in celebration of the publication of an anthology called Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (edited by Collin Tong), I’ll be reading along with some of the other authors at Elliott Bay Bookstore at 3pm on March 16.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.


DSC00865I swam and swam, longer and further than I thought I would, turning my face to the sun each time I flipped over for some backstroke. Then I sat in a hot tub and worked the jets over my tight calves, shoulders, back, feet. From there I repaired to the sauna, lay back and went from pleasantly warm to luxuriously hot. It was the tail end of January. Noon on a Friday. I wasn’t on vacation. I was at the sparkling new Rainier Beach pool in the middle of southeast Seattle.

For five dollars and 25 cents, I swam, soaked and sweated away my cares and woes, along with a rainbow coalition of fellow south Seattleites. When I arrived, the locker room was swarming with toddlers and moms who had just finishing swim lessons. When I left, the seniors were on their way in, slow and graceful, like tortoises who’ve lived for decades on a beach the rest of us just discovered.

“You just turned 68? You’re a baby. I’m 87!” one of them said to another.

“87?” said the 68-year-old. “That’s a blessing, to be 87. That’s a blessing!”

“It sure is,” said the 87-year-old, as she moved, one step at a time, behind her walker. “It sure is.”

I had not been to the Rainier Beach Pool for many years, not since long before it was torn down and rebuilt. I remember one summer, taking my children there for swimming lessons; walking in was like entering a steamy, mildewed concrete bunker. What a transformation! The sweeping wall of floor-to-ceiling windows; the skylights; the not one but two new pools—one for lap swimming and the other, featuring a tubular slide, for “leisure” swimming.

As I stroked away in the lap pool, I thought: this is one pretty great example of our tax dollars at work. This is an oasis and it’s open to all comers: a place to exercise, learn to swim, relax, socialize or be blissfully alone, in the middle of a neighborhood where many people lead busy, stressful lives but don’t have a lot of money for health clubs, let alone vacations. To spend an hour at the Rainier Beach pool felt like the best mini-staycation ever.

Remember “staycations?” Where you go on vacation but stay home? It was a turn of phrase that took hold in 2009, when we were all trying to keep our spirits up while the economy was in free-fall. Staycations were a terrible idea, from the travel industry’s point of view, and as a travel lover, I sympathized, especially with the owners of small hotels, cabin resorts and restaurants. But when you’re broke, you’re broke, and there was something wonderful about seeing people find ways to treat themselves well without leaving town or spending money they didn’t have. People including my own family. We started doing a lot more camping, hiking and backpacking, and that has brought us unexpected joy.

Meanwhile, the city broke ground on some of the public projects that had been planned long before the recession. One of them was the new Rainier Beach Community Center, including the new pool complex. Though it meant the neighborhood was without a pool for two years, I’m here to say it was worth the wait.

And it’s not just about the value of an hour-long staycation. Learning to swim is a public health issue. Studies have consistently shown that more Asian-Americans and African-Americans are nonswimmers, which puts them at much higher risk for drowning, especially in a city like Seattle. Swimming lesson scholarships and discounts are available at all Seattle public pools. So visit Rainier Beach pool—or your local pool—and celebrate: public money, well spent.

Can’t stop thinking about that Superbowl win? Here are a few great takes on it: Kim Mayer’s view from A Little Elbow Room, Lindy West’s on Jezebel, and Suzy Strutner’s on The Huffington Post. Gotta say: it’s a pretty sweet week in Seattle, even for those of us who are not nuts about football!

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.






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