therestlessnest

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

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

The Other Washington

IMG_1174It’s the heavyweight red bicycle I’ll remember: how I swiped a credit card and punched in a code and out it popped from its parking spot in front of the Department of Labor.

Then, freedom. Off I went, up the long, gravel paths of the Mall, dodging the Sunday crowds, feeling the breeze I couldn’t quite catch when I was walking.

The Other Washington is always full of tourists in the summertime, despite the tropical heat and humidity, which on this visit was blessedly below normal. Hot or not, I like being there with the tourists. My fellow tourists: I’m one too, even though I’ve visited many times over the years, since one of my closest friends lives in the Virginia suburbs.

What fascinates me is how my own D.C. tastes have changed. How much more of a cornball, capitol-loving kind of tourist I’ve become over time.

I was a college student when I first visited Washington, D.C., in the post-Watergate late seventies. Patriotism was unthinkable. The protest era was over, and what, we thought at that cynical time, had those marches achieved? The only government building I wanted to visit was the National Gallery.

Nearly four decades later, D.C. has changed and so have I.

On my first afternoon, I visited the Library of Congress, which I love for its over-the-top tile frescoes honoring muses, poets, philosophers and scholars; its gold-leaf proclamations that “Knowledge is Power.” But this time, I found a hidden gem: a tiny plain gallery down the hall from the basement shop, where a small but powerful selection of news photos of the 1963 March on Washington were on display.

When you see those pictures of a quarter million people filling the Mall, all eyes turned toward the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps—when fifty years have passed and the words of his “I Have a Dream” speech still resound—and then you step outside and take in the vast sweep from the Capitol building down to the distant monuments—then you see Washington D.C. a little differently.

One of the photos was taken from behind Lincoln’s massive stone shoulder, as if he was looking down on the crowds, blinking back a hundred years worth of tears.

Hard to believe his life ended in a little house on 10th Street, across from Ford’s Theatre where he was fatally shot. Inspired by the Library of Congress exhibition, I finally went to see it.

It was a long walk up Pennsylvania Avenue, past the statues outside the National Archives, with their solemn motto, “Past is Prologue.” Past the Department of Justice and the FBI. Across busy E Street to quiet Tenth.

A group of foreign students stood outside the Petersen House, where Lincoln died early in the morning of April 15, 1865. They studied the plaque. They quietly snapped photos on their phones. Clearly, these young people understood history better than I did at their age. They understood the notion of past as prologue.

A few days later, riding my big red rental bike around the Washington Monument, I saw many more groups of students, some of them strolling with their parents. I saw buses from all over the country. I saw veterans making their way towards memorials to the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War Two.

So much emotion courses through our capitol on any given day, I thought as I pedaled. Some days—like the day of the March on Washington or the day Lincoln died—it’s a collective tsunami of emotion. But ordinary D.C. days are moving too. And I’m always happy to see where one takes me.

Her_Beautiful_Brain Save the date: Her Beautiful Brain book launch: 3pm, September 7, at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. You can pre-order now from Elliott Bay, Powell’s Books, or the large or small bookseller of your choice.

August

IMG_1162 August is a misunderstood month. “Nothing gets done in August,” people say. “Everyone’s on vacation.” But who is everyone, and what exactly does vacation mean?

Below this surface fiction of hot, languid days, college freshmen pack up and get ready to step out of the only life they’ve ever known and into a new one they can’t quite imagine yet. Young couples get married. Babies conceived on cold winter nights are born on warm summer mornings. Teachers write lesson plans. Schoolkids—well, they’re probably still in happy denial, though a few might secretly look forward to being a whole year older than last year.

And some of us have books coming out, not long after Labor Day.

Call me a late bloomer, because I am, but publishing my first book this fall feels in many ways just as scary as going off to college.

I was an early-bloomer then. I left home for college at seventeen. And all through that long-ago August, a stranger stood in my bedroom, reminding me that I was about to step off a cliff. The stranger was a suitcase. I’d never owned one. Never needed one. But here it was, my own classic, rectangular, sky-blue Skyway, a high school graduation gift from my grandparents: quietly waiting for me to fill it. Quietly reminding me, every day, that the Skyway and I would soon be flying east into a different universe called college. A universe I longed to love but didn’t know yet if I would. Didn’t know yet that there would be moments worth loving, freedoms worth having, but crises and troughs and miseries too.

Her_Beautiful_BrainI want to love launching my first book, Her Beautiful Brain. But now I’m way beyond old enough to know there will be high and low points. There will be people who don’t like it. People I love who don’t like all of it. People whose attention I had hoped to attract, who ignore it.

That sturdy, rectangular Skyway was my sidekick, my magic carpet, my ticket out of this sleepy old Here Come the Brides town. Grandma was so proud to have picked it out for my high school graduation gift. It was our color, the blue of all of our eyes, the blue that turned up in every ski sweater she ever knit. Skyway blue, set off perfectly by the stainless steel latches that snapped open and shut like a stapler. Inside, the blue was subtly quilted and had a silver sheen, not unlike Grandma’s hair. There were shirred pockets around the sides for small items. It smelled like a new car. It smelled like my life finally beginning.

A few years ago, before we moved out of the house we’d been in for two decades, the time came to face the truth: twenty years in an unheated carport had not been kind to my old Skyway, so unkind it wasn’t even Goodwill-worthy. Off to the dump it went. Or “transfer station,” as we now say, as if we are gently “transferring” our cast-offs to a new habitat.DSC00232.JPG

As I watched the Junk-B-Gone truck pull out of the driveway, the Skyway half-buried, I felt disloyal and guilty about the haphazard way I’d stored it.

It was a tool, I told myself. Like my long-gone first Royal typewriter. Or the laptop on which I started my memoir, which is not the same laptop on which I finished it. It’s where the Skyway took me that mattered. Into the stories of my life. One of which, one month from now, I will be sharing, between the covers of a book.

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