therestlessnest

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

Archive for the category “quiet”

Boot Camp

IMG_0717You should write about This,” my friends say to me, as they take it all in: the bulky blue splint with its five Velcro straps, the twee roller cart, the pajama bottoms I’m trying to pass off as trousers. (They’re brand-new and navy-blue: surely it’s not obvious!)

I’ve resisted Writing About This, until now, for many reasons, including: One, this is corrective foot surgery, not a disaster that befell me and would make for a really gripping story; Two, the prognosis is promising: This is not forever. And Three, I am getting all the help I need from my unbelievably patient husband. We are lucky enough to work from home, so these six weeks of being roller-cart-bound are not nearly as logistically daunting as they would be for most people.

I have absolutely nothing at all to complain about. Right?

Right. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll take a crack at the strangely surprising upside of it all:

I’m learning like crazy. It’s all stuff I’ve never had to learn before, like: how to be helpless and grateful (especially on those first few days); how to ask for help (still learning, but getting better at it); how to be patient with the mysterious, and slow, process of healing (ditto, with occasional colossal backslides); how to be humble (crawling or backwards-scooting really are sometimes the best ways to get from A to B, especially in a house with stairs). Re asking for help, my husband—who is now an expert on getting asked for help 50 times a day—has this advice: Be direct and to the point. Don’t couch everything in silly phrases like, “If you don’t mind,” or “If it’s not too much trouble” or “When you get a chance.” Also: “please” and “thank you” are always worth saying.

41ciJJ+6+mL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_I’m reading like crazy. When you subtract real exercise, cooking, cleaning, shopping and driving from your day, you suddenly have a lot of reading time. You can read all of the Sunday papers, and even some of The New Yorker, and still have time for stacks of books. Here are a few of my May favorites: Elizabeth Strout’s new book of ingenuously linked stories, Abide with Me; Walker Percy’s stunning 1961 classic, The Moviegoer; Mirabai Starr’s memoir of grief and spiritual searching, Caravan of No Despair; Richard Ford’s memoir of his parents, Between Them; 51Oh93fUHEL._SY346_Finnish-American journalist Anu Partenen’s provocative look at life in Scandinavia versus America, The Nordic Theory of Everything; and Claire Dederer’s memoir of adolescent yearning, sex and marriage, Love and Trouble.

51tLaNEEZdLAbout Love and Trouble: Two different friends urged me to get to Dederer’s book as soon as I possibly could. I urge you to get to it too. It’s not an easy read. I also know people who say they won’t touch it. I wish they would, because it is an honest and unflinching reckoning with what it meant to grow up at a time when parents were often too busy with their own missions of self-discovery to pay attention to what their kids were up to. And Dederer’s writing is hypnotically engaging, especially in the chapter entitled “Dear Roman Polanski.” I won’t say more, except this: I forgot I even had a swollen, stitched-up, splint-encased foot while reading this book.

IMG_0720I’ve also had plenty of time to follow the super-hot new Sopranos-like soap opera, Our 45th President. I recommend Lester Holt, Brian Williams and Judy Woodruff when you need a break from having the news shouted at you. And if you haven’t subscribed to The Washington Post, do it now. (I’m not up on NPR’s coverage, since I’m not doing any cooking or driving.)

IMG_2697And, finally, I am deep into the Journals Project: which consists of re-reading and transcribing excerpts from my, um, nearly five decades of journals. This is a project that has been ongoing, off and on, for well over a year, but one which I now feel I may actually complete within the next month. Nothing like solitude and big chunks of time, time, time, for deep spelunking into my own past.

My motivation for doing this is to trace my spiritual life (or lack thereof) from age 13, when I began keeping an intermittent journal. It was a time in my life when I was fervent in my faith. I want to write about this. But first I have to remember it, and ponder it, and take it forward through the many decades between then and now. And having time to do that has been the second-greatest gift of this period of convalescence.

But there’s no question about what the first-greatest gift of this Blue-Splint Boot Camp has been: learning how to ask for, and accept, help. Many people have quipped that this is good preparation for old age. Yes it certainly is, and since my husband and I intend to tackle that project (old age) together too, aren’t we lucky to have this opportunity to rehearse? I only hope that when it’s my turn to be the butler/chauffeur/chef/caregiver, I can be even half as positive, uncomplaining and cheerful as he is.

HBBfinalcoverSeattle-area friends: I’ll be reading from Her Beautiful Brain on  June 17 at 1pm at the Kenmore Library. 

 

 

 

 

Rain Forest

IMG_1897 Rain Forest: the most cooling words in the world. Can’t you just feel the rain, dripping through the cool, deep shade of trees draped in moss? Aaahhh. I’m speaking of our Pacific Northwest rain forests, the great temperate forests that once stretched from Alaska to southern Oregon. Now, what is left of those ancient mossy kingdoms form the rich lungs of the Olympic National Park, breathing moisture through the valleys of the Queets, Quinault, Bogachiel and Hoh Rivers. IMG_0991They are where we go when we crave not just green but a thousand shades of green; not just trees but hundreds of giants, each one of them hundreds of years old.

My husband and I were there this weekend, backpacking along the Hoh River. As always, we packed fleece and rain gear. You never know, in the rain forest. But this was no ordinary Fourth of July trip to the Olympic Peninsula. This was the Fourth that came right after the warmest June in our weather history.

IMG_1894    It’s hard to describe to someone from, say, Arizona, what exactly is so strange about all this. Why it is incredible to camp on a gravel bar on the Hoh River without a rainfly over your tent, your sleeping bag unzipped and thrown open, the dry, clear summer twilight still faintly pink at ten o’clock, the full moon about to rise. Not only will there be no cold breeze or rain on this night in the temperate rainforest, there will barely be any darkness at all. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful. And it’s unsettling. Normally, the first few days of July around here are still June, weather-wise, meaning quite likely rainy gray and cool. Normally, we dress warmly for Independence Day picnics and fireworks. But this year, the question we’re all asking ourselves is: is this the new normal? Hot, dry Fourth of July weather in the Rain Forest, where it rains 12 to 14 feet every year?

“Seattle on the Mediterranean,” was the headline on a New York Times essay by contributor Tim Egan, published last week. Egan points out that it’s been hotter here than Athens, Rome or Los Angeles on several days over the past month. He also cites University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass’ explanation of why Mass believes this heat wave is not attributable to global warming but is instead a, quote, “amplication of the upper level wave pattern.” It has to do with the jet stream being stuck in a persistent, warming ridge and trough. I think. Mass also explains high pressure over the eastern Pacific Ocean is warming the water, which warms the air flowing our way. Mass is no climate denier. His point is that when the weather is this spikey, this suddenly strange, it’s not about something that is happening incrementally and globally.

But Egan nails why it’s hard to just sit back and enjoy our Mediterranean summer. As he puts it, quote: “The current heat is a precursor, an early peek at a scary tomorrow.” We actually don’t want this to be the new normal. It’s hard to enjoy a quirky heat wave when we have much to legitimately fear about global warming.

And when we go to the rain forest, the last thing we expect is heat. Or the haze of the 1200-acre Paradise forest fire, the largest in the park’s history, blowing up from the Queets valley. A volunteer told us it will probably burn until snow starts falling. And weather-watchers are predicting another warm winter here. Strange times. Unsettling times. Though I’ll never forget our balmy night on the edge of the icy Hoh.

HBBfinalcoverBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.

Dining Alone

IMG_1068     Cacio is an old central Italian word for cheese, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up later. What I wondered, as I crossed Second Avenue on a silky spring night, was whether it might mean “gift:” as in, a gift for me; the gift of a restaurant where I would have the courage to sit and dine alone on a Friday night in New York.

On any night, the East Village is chock-a-block with groups of friends and tightly clinched couples. These days, the trendiest restaurants have lines out the door and deafening crowds in the bars. But Cacio e Vino was a quieter place, just around the corner from my friend Lisa’s apartment, where I was staying. Its garage-style windows were rolled up, its tables invitingly half-outdoors. I thought I could do it.

I knew I needed to do it. I was hungry and thirsty and fresh out of mojo. I wanted to do it. But after 27 years of marriage, dining out, alone, is something I just never seem to do. Or maybe it’s something I have forgotten how to do.

11228506_10152771366521394_8112740348622402682_n         Funny thing is, the week I’d just spent in New York had been all about female empowerment with a capital E. With the help of Lisa, who is president of the Women’s Media Group, I gave my first New York reading from Her Beautiful Brain at Book Culture on Columbus Avenue. Later in the week at Book Expo, I was on a panel of women entrepreneurs. I spent one evening with old friends from my all-women’s college and one with new friends, fellow authors with my all-women’s publishing company, She Writes Press. IMG_1813I even had a ten-second encounter at Book Expo with Julianne Moore, who was signing copies of her latest children’s book, in which I managed to thank her for her Oscar-winning performance in Still Alice and, gulp, give her assistant a signed copy of my book.

By Friday afternoon, I was ready to rest. Lisa went out to see her mom in Brooklyn. We had plans to meet up later, but Lisa called to say she needed to stay put in Brooklyn. It’s OK, I assured her. I was exhausted, and I had an early flight the next morning.

And so that is how I came to be dining alone on a Friday night in New York.

You must do this, I told myself. It’s too beautiful an evening to get take-out and hide in the apartment.

I walked in to Cacio e Vino. The waiter offered me a choice of tables. I chose to look out on the street instead of hiding along the wall. He brought water and bread with fragrant oil. I ordered a glass of wine and a plate of pasta with zucchini, mint and goat cheese. Mint! Why not?

I didn’t have a book with me and I didn’t want to stare at my phone, so I pulled out a pen and a few note cards I’d bought. But for a long while, I simply sat and sipped and ate slowly, gazing out at the soft lights along the avenue, watching the New Yorkers walk by.

A young couple, oblivious to all but each other, stood outside Cacio e Vino for several minutes. Eventually, they came in, which made me happy, because I knew they’d love it. And because the sight of me, a solo diner so quaint as to have note cards and a pen on the table, had not scared them off.

It’s strange now to try to articulate the reasons why I might not have sat down and enjoyed that solo meal. Was it that I did not want to be looked at and pitied? Was I afraid someone—a man, most likely—would spoil my solitude by trying to strike up a conversation? This is much less likely to happen to me now, in my fifties, than it once was, and maybe that bothered me, in some illogical way. Was it the money? Did it feel too indulgent, spending restaurant dollars on me, alone? But here’s the real question: would a man ever, ever go through these mental hurdles before he took a seat at a restaurant table for one?

What’s odd is that sometimes I secretly daydream about dining alone. When I’m at a restaurant with other people, I have thoughts like: oh, that small plate would be the perfect thing to eat alone. And yet back in Seattle, if an evening comes along when I could actually do such a thing, I never do. But maybe now I will. Because here’s what I learned, last Friday night in New York: after a week of wall-to-wall empowerment, it was wonderful to be alone, and taken care of by a good waiter. As if I deserved it.

HBBfinalcoverBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here. An audiobook version will be available later this year.

Dateline Máncora

IMG_1585There are only so many ways to describe a beautiful beach. The true beauty of it, for writers and readers, is the way it allows your mind to travel lightly, far and wide, or to venture deeply and with great absorption, as you wish or as you dare, always returning to the anchor of the beauty before you. The surprise of it, on this trip, is that our beach is in Peru.

Peru is the Inca Trail, the glorious Andes, sprawling, sleepless Lima. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. From where I’m sitting now in Máncora, on the north coast, the Amazon basin is not far away. Nor are the snowy high sierras. But this coastal landscape is a rugged desert edged by a strip of long, curving bays and beaches.

We came to Máncora because it is a town my great-uncle and his family lived in for a year in the 1950s. It was a dramatic change from their elegant Lima home. My cousin Andy remembers Máncora as an 11-year-old’s backwater paradise, where he played in the dusty hills and on the sublime beach. We are in Peru to wrap up filming on our documentary, Zona Intangible, which was inspired by my great-uncle, who lived here for two decades and was a pioneer of Peru’s fishmeal industry. The film won’t be all about fishmeal or all about my uncle; it will, mostly, tell the story of a handmade city outside Lima where a clinic on a dusty back street bears his name and where the notion of what home is has taken on a new meaning. Is home a one-room shack on a hill of sand? A house in a fishing village where your father has decided you’ll live for this one year? Is it where your family lives, or is it where they came from?

Máncora is an easy-going town; a surfer’s paradise; the kind of place people roll into and stay longer than they thought they would. Our hotel—EcoLodge Máncora—is owned and run by French ex-pats. Much tinier than its name implies, it feels more like an old-fashioned guesthouse, the kind of place Graham Greene might have stayed, cross-bred with a tree-house that just kept getting bigger. The rambling “hostel” where we watched the Superbowl (Seattle friends: I will say nothing more on that front, I promise) featured a swimming pool, a ping-pong table, a cavernous bar with a big screen and many guests who appeared barely old enough to travel on their own. Maybe some of them will stay and make this their home for a while.

Rustin and I started our marriage living out of backpacks and traveling around the world for ten months. So sometimes, traveling feels a bit like an emotional home for us. A place where we’re comfortable together. Trips like this one—where we’re working for ourselves (Zona Intangible) and for others (the University of Washington’s Dept. of Global Health, which is doing amazing work in Peru) and also vacationing (the beach) feel natural to us. But, unlike during that first year of our marriage, we now do have a home, and it’s in Seattle. And as we near the end of this trip, we’re looking forward to getting back to it. Cold weather and all.

My Introduction to Memoir Writing class at Seattle Central College is now full! Next session will be in Fall 2015.

Buy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.

I had a great conversation with Women in Film Seattle President Virginia Bogert that she turned into a member profile of yours truly. Thanks, Virginia!

 

 

 

 

Park Dreaming

10295774_1453094438270155_5810437079417490514_nI want to write about parks. Seattle voters, you know we’ve got a big decision to make. But here’s the problem: there are these snapshots in my head that keep getting in the way.

A woman standing in front of her wildfire-torched home in Pateros, Washington.

A funeral for a child in Gaza.

Bodies lying in a wheat field in Ukraine.

The headlines this week, and the pictures that go with them, have been brutal.

I want to write about parks. But it seems—disrespectful.

I want to write about how parks saved my mental health more than once. About what a safe haven they’ve always been for me. I want to remember the Arboretum, where I could spend half a day with a pencil and notebook. I want to shout out the old-growth trees and cool summer waters of Seward Park, my refuge for 24 years. I want to remember the climbing tree in the playfield up the hill from my childhood home, where I could hide out for a while when being one of six kids in the house just got too cramped.

But even though I really, really want Seattle voters to pass the measure on the August primary ballot which will create stable funding at last for our city parks, it just seems so indulgent to write about while the largest recorded wildfire in our state’s history blazes on. While both sides in Gaza report their deadliest day. While families in the Netherlands and Malaysia and a dozen other countries mourn the violent deaths of people they loved, people whose only involvement in a territorial war was to fly high overhead in a commercial jet.

So indulgent. But here’s the rub: I can’t stop the wildfires or the missiles or the bombs. But I can urge you to think about the future of Seattle’s parks. About how—when it feels like things aren’t going so well in the big wide world—we need our parks more than ever. We need green places where we can walk, talk, run, bike, swim, think.

Or pull ivy. On Saturday, I was planning to go for a run in one of the most popular parks in the city—beautiful Golden Gardens, way out on Shilshole Bay—when I spotted an email reminder about a work party in one of the least-known corners of the park system: Cheasty Greenspace, a tangle of woods along the east side of Beacon Hill, just around the corner from where I live.

I decided I needed to be useful more than I needed a drive across town and a fresh salt breeze.

The goal in the Cheasty woods is to create bike paths and walking paths in an area of the city where access to quiet, green spaces is sorely needed. There are some neighbors who say they want it to stay wild. But most of us in the area do want the trails, and we’re willing to show the city we do by putting in some seriously sweaty sweat equity.

The task at hand was not glamorous: yanking out invasive English ivy. Yards of it. Mounds of it. All morning, a dozen or so grownups pulled and pulled, while kids ran our little piles up to the big piles. By noon, we had amassed a small mountain of ivy.

We were sweaty and dirty. We had not solved the world’s problems. But we had done our modest bit for our future park, our little link in Seattle’s emerald chain.

We know the ivy will keep growing back. So… we’ll keep pulling it. Because once you see where there might someday, if everybody pitches in, actually be a path, it’s hard to get that snapshot out of your mind.

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

 

Quiet: the Book

DSC00865This year, I am making a New Year’s resolution that might appeal to you too—or to someone you know. Here it is: I resolve to stop trying to make my introvert self live up to the extrovert ideal of our culture.

Introvert that I am, I excelled as a child at book reports, and that’s really what this is. The book I read, that led to my resolution, is Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. My report can be summed up in three words: Read this book. Even if you’re an extrovert, you will recognize many of the people you know, love or work with, and you will benefit from learning a little more about what makes them tick.

Quiet was published in 2012, so you may have already read it or heard of it. I didn’t read it until now because I was number 674 or something on the library hold list and only just got my hands on it, which says something about the number of people who found the title appealing. I should have bought it. In fact, I probably will buy it, so that I can re-read comforting sections from time to time.

People who know me casually might say: you’re an introvert? Really? But that’s why you have to read Susan Cain’s book, in which she explains better than I can why  “introvert” does not mean shy or anti-social. Many introverts, myself included, love good conversations with friends and colleagues. It’s the networking event, the cocktail party, the old college mixers and high school dances, that daunt us. Some introverts can’t do them at all. Many others, like me, can tolerate or even enjoy an hour or two—but then we’re SO relieved to get home and open a book.

But what I really loved about Quiet is—just as she promises in her subtitle—the way that Susan Cain makes the case not only for what introverts are not but for what they are. For, as she puts it, the power of introverts.

In a room full of talkers, who’s really tracking what’s going on? The listeners.

In an art gallery, where does the power reside? In the art. Which was created in solitude, in a studio.

How does a movie, a play, a poem, a book, a ballad get its start? In the head of one person, sitting alone, scribbling words on a page or tapping them on a screen. Whispering lines out loud to hear how they will sound, someday, in a hushed theatre full of people. No matter how powerful the performance, its source is this: the deeply quiet moment of focused creativity.

These days, teachers and bosses want everyone working in teams: collaborating, brainstorming, talking talking talking. In her book, Cain takes an in-depth look at what we stand to lose by insisting on constant teamwork, open office plans, classrooms arranged into table groups.

When I worked in TV news, I mostly produced long (really long, by today’s standards!) features and special reports. I loved coming up with stories that got me out of the city: to wheat farms in eastern Washington, to an iron foundry in Port Townsend, to the last daffodil farm in Puyallup. I loved interviewing, and still do, because it mostly consists of listening. Many times, the photographer and I would be driving back to Seattle and we’d have a conversation that would go like this:

Photographer: “How do you think you’ll start the piece?”

Me: “I don’t know. I won’t know until I sit down to write.”

Photographer: “That one shot I got, with the wheat stalks in the foreground—“

Me: “Great idea. Definitely. I’ll look at it.”

I was terrible at talking the story. I had to be sitting alone, starting to put words on screen, in order to figure out what I wanted to say. I’m still that way, although I’ve gotten a little better. But thanks to Susan Cain, I vow to no longer view this as a flaw. It’s just the way I work best: in happy solitude. From which I will eventually emerge, ready for feedback on what I’ve written, and perhaps some cozy conversations with friends.

Registration is open for Intro to Memoir Writing at SCCCStarts Jan 6. Six Monday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!

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

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

Hiatus: the Mid-term Report

IMG_0547

Gravel bar: my favorite hiatus phrase. So far. See photo, at left, of the view from our Fourth of July campsite in the heart of the Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest. Who knew that in the middle of one of the shadiest, mossiest, wettest places on the planet we would find a sun-drenched spot called Five Mile Island on one of the Hoh’s 50 or so miles of braided gravel bars?

We splashed our sweat off in the icy water and set up our tent. Then we sat in the sun and read, trading back and forth an unlikely pair of books: War by Candlelight, Daniel Alarcón’s luminous stories of Peru, and What Darwin Really Said by Benjamin Farrington.

Truth: the real reason these two books made the backpack cut was because they are slim. But they delivered.

Alarcón is a master of the first line that hooks you, helplessly:

“They’d been living in the apartment for ten days when David was first asked to disappear.”

“The day before a stray bomb buried him in the Peruvian jungle, Fernando sat with José Carlos and together they meditated on death.”

“Every year on Mayra’s birthday, since she turned one, I have asked Sonia to marry me.”

Then he reels you in, and sends you flying from the gravel bar to New York, to the Amazonian jungle, to Lima. Alarcón’s genius is to slip from sight, to leave us alone with his characters and without any overhanging awareness of his authorial presence—so that, at the end of the story, you the reader are as devastated, or uplifted, or both, as they are.

Meanwhile, there was Farrington, the late Irish professor and historian of science, eager to give those of us who never got around to reading The Origin of Species a brisk review of Darwin’s life and importance. Published in 1966 when Farrington was 72 years old, it’s the kind of book that makes you wish you could curl up with the author in front of a shilling-operated gas fire, light his pipe, pour him a cup of strong tea, and have him read it to you. But sitting on our gravel bar by a river milky with glacial runoff in the midst of an ancient forest? That wasn’t such a bad setting either, for lines like:

“The trouble began when Darwin, absorbed in elaborating his doctrine of natural selection, lost interest also in the wider culture which had once delighted him.”

This is from a chapter called “Darwin and the Poets,” in which Farrington argues that Darwin’s intellectual development suffered from his increasingly monomaniacal focus on his theories at the expense of everything else in his life.

Maybe what old Darwin needed was a hiatus. As prolific writer Anne Lamott might put it: I’m just saying.

However. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some mixed feelings about this Restless Nest hiatus. After two years of weekly radio deadlines, I feel a little unmoored, much as I loved being able to bask on the gravel bar without worrying about what I would write next, and when I would write it. Just as I loved the trip I took to Boston in June for my college reunion: I didn’t “have” to write about it, I just got to do it. (OK, that trip did inspire me to write one little piece for Minerva Rising’s blog about a painting in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that is like an old friend to me.)

Mostly, I like this feeling of being alert to everything around me—without an agenda, an angle, beyond scribbled descriptions in a notebook.

What I could be doing, of course, is writing ahead. But I’ve rarely done that with the Restless Nest. Maybe it’s that name: without thinking too hard about it, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing it restlessly; thinking on the page. I want it to reflect the week in which it’s written.

And that’s what I’ve missed on this hiatus: thinking on the page. I haven’t done enough of it. For me, it is the best way to think.

But I like that I miss it.

Except when I’m basking on a gravel bar, hanging out with some pretty great guys: Alarcón, Farrington, Darwin and of course my fellow basker Rustin Thompson, aka the Restless Critic and now also Crosscut’s Digital Prospector. We’ve been seeing a LOT of movies during this summer hiatus and unlike me, Rustin has been writing constantly—don’t miss his recommendations for the large and small screens!

 

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

 

Hiatus

DSC00865We were going to camp, but the weather was terrible. Instead, we rented a tiny cottage on the Washington coast. It has a wood stove and a big window, so we can watch the storm pound the beach in comfort.

There is room, in this cabin, for exactly two people: my husband and me.

About fifteen years ago, we rented a pair of houses up the beach a ways. There were eight of us—my sister and her family and me and mine. Four adults, four kids. Beach fires, forts, expeditions, charades, a new puppy—it was a hectic, joyful blast of a trip.

It was a different time of life. A wonderful time. I feel lucky to have had such a wonderful time.

We still feel lucky. We have two young adult children who actually want to hang out with us reasonably often, and we treasure our time together. But we also have this: the flexibility to sneak off to the beach and rent a place the size of a dollhouse, where we can read, write, walk, eat and sleep when we want.

The Washington coast is a good place to ponder the passage of time. Little changes here, and yet everything does. The wind and waves push the sand without ceasing: every day, the beach is brand new.

Two years ago, when I began writing these commentaries for KBCS radio, I thought I would reflect frequently on the passage of time and this big life transition from a full nest to a “restless” one. More often, I’ve found myself responding to what is happening in the world, whether in my neighborhood or far away, from this more restlessly reflective vantage point.

Turns out, “restless” really is the right word to describe this phase. And not just for me and my husband but for our two children, as they make their ways in the world, bouncing back to the nest for an evening or a week or a month, setting out again, visiting frequently with reports from the frontlines of becoming an adult.

If you’re lucky, there is no dramatic break between a full nest and an empty one. Instead, there is breathing room—for us and for them—and frequent reunions, in which we can compare notes.

In some ways, their 20something and our 50something lives have more in common with each other than they do with the people in between us: the busy young parents renting the big beach houses and making spaghetti for eight. Our daughter’s in her first professional job; our son’s in his final stretch of college. They, like we, are pondering questions such as: what do I want the next one, five, ten years of my life to be? When you have young children, you’re way too busy doing to spend much time pondering.

Old beach cabins creak and rock and shift with every storm. There’s a for-sale sign outside this one: before long, it will probably be torn down and something bigger and fancier will be built on this prime beachfront lot.

I wonder if the new owners will keep the driftwood fence, with its festoons of fishing floats. There are names of people and places on some of them—Dominica, Piraeus, Doreen. Bits of histories that floated up here in the surf. Of people, who had bad times and wonderful times and stories to tell. Which I hope they told.

I’m going to take a three-month hiatus from the weekly Restless Nest radio commentaries. I may occasionally post a new (or old favorite) piece here over the summer, and I’ll see you on the radio again come September.  

In case you missed it: “Laughter and Forgetting,” mAugust 2012 story in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine about younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease just won first place in health reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. Honored and grateful to Sharon Monaghan and Cathie Cannon for sharing their story with me.

Radio lovers: Podcasts available here of the full Restless Nest audio archive.

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

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Meaning: Searching and/or Finding

DSC00865Trying to fill a room in Seattle is a fickle business. On the first day of 2013 that felt like spring was not just a dream some of us had, who ever would’ve guessed that 25 hundred Seattle souls would willingly converge for a collection of lectures called the Search for Meaning Book Festival? And this was a free event: advance registration encouraged, but no fifty dollar commitment. No reason why you couldn’t just say, “Are you kidding? I’m going to Golden Gardens!” after you pulled back the curtains on a morning flood of daffodil-yellow sunlight.

Now in its fifth year, the Search for Meaning Book Festival just keeps growing. It is hosted by Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, but the authors and speakers come from every religious tradition, including none-of-the-above. This year’s keynotes were a conversation between authors Sherman Alexie and Michael Chabon in the morning and a riveting talk by Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan in the afternoon. Before and after the keynotes were seminars, of which we attendees had to choose three or four out of nearly four dozen. Topics ranged from searching for meaning in suffering to the ethics of sustainable seafood. Highlights for me were Port Townsend poet Holly Hughes’ session on contemplation and creativity and Stranger Genius Award-winner Lesley Hazleton’s talk on the life of Muhammad.

But I digress. Back to the weather. Next time you’re on Capitol Hill, stroll a few blocks south and you’ll find yourself in a little green oasis: the Seattle University campus. Not such a bad place to be on a bizarrely sunny March day. Strolling back and forth between seminars, the Cascade Mountains glittered in the east, the trees were budding, the camellias popping, the fountains spraying. Inside the lovely Chapel of Saint Ignatius, the sunlit blue of the stained glass was so vibrant it vibrated.

West of campus, just across the street, is Swedish Hospital, where I have often found meaning waiting for me, whether I wanted it there or not: in the joy of greeting newborn babies; the sorrow of saying good-bye to a friend in her final days.

Truth be told, I was having trouble with meaning that morning at Seattle University. I had just learned that a child I know might have cancer.  It is hard to find meaning in that kind of news. I didn’t go to the Search for Meaning Book Festival expecting to find an answer there, but I thought maybe I’d find distraction. Or some vague kind of comfort.

The first seminar I attended was… exactly wrong. Right, no doubt, for adults facing major illness, but wrong for brooding me, wrestling with why children should ever have to face such horrors. Maybe I should have just skipped all this and gone to Golden Gardens, I thought, as I headed over to the keynote. I’ve heard Sherman Alexie AND Michael Chabon before—why am I here?

But Sherman Alexie is a charmer. He had me with his crack about dining on “kosher buffalo” with Chabon. And as Alexie encouraged Chabon to ramble on about the waxing and waning of his Jewish faith, I looked around the room and thought, Here’s the comfort: 2500 people who are curious, who are listeners and questioners, who actually want to search for meaning, even on a sunny day.

Chabon tossed off a line that stuck with me: “Searching and not finding is much more satisfying than finding.”

Later in the day, the Jesuit President of Seattle University, Father Steven Sundborg—a man who you might assume has Meaning all figured out—asked this: Do we seek meaning, or does meaning seek us?

He posed the question in his introduction to Reza Aslan, whose hour-long talk vigorously tackled the rising American fear of Islam: how it has morphed, over the dozen years since 9-11, into a right-wing-fueled, bigotry-stoking machine.

Aslan had lots of data. But ultimately, he said, data doesn’t change minds. What changes minds is relationships.

Because we’re all searching for meaning. It’s what we do. And it is comforting to know, on one bright Saturday in Seattle, that we’re not alone.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

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

 

 

National Parks

His name was Brady, “like the Bunch,” he said, which I’m sure he knew would make it stick in the minds of a couple of people already a chunk of years older than the Brady parents were during their TV heyday.

Brady looked no older than our own 20 and 23 year-old children. He had that skinny build that made me want to offer him a sandwich right away, if we’d had one to offer. If we hadn’t been backpacking in the North Cascades and just eaten a meal of freeze-dried something reconstituted with hot water and served in a pouch. And if he hadn’t been an actual park ranger, gun in holster and all.

We had just set up our tent at a place called High Camp when Brady loped into view. He apologized for bothering us, explaining he wanted to let us know he was there, right around the corner at a ranger campsite, since we might have thought we were alone and been startled by his footsteps or his two-way radio.

“No need to apologize,” I assured him, not adding what I was thinking, which was: we’re just a couple of city-dwelling people your parents’ age who really have no business up here in the backcountry and we are frankly thrilled to know there is a ranger on the other side of the knoll!

We asked about a noise we couldn’t identify, a sort of Tuvan throat-singer sound. Grouse, Brady said. We asked about bears. Oh sure, they’re around, he said—just make sure to hang your food bag. We talked about how gorgeous the alpine meadows were, though it was too bad the mosquitoes had just hatched like crazy. He offered to change our permit for the next night to a site where they weren’t so relentless, though he urged us to take a hike in the morning to the high meadows, before we headed down to our new camp. We promised we would, and we did.

As we hiked the next day through meadows of lupine and paintbrush, we marveled at Brady and everything he represented.  As Tim Egan wrote in a lovely essay in the New York Times, we—meaning all of us, all Americans—are the owners of a vast resort called the National Parks. Hard-working rangers like Brady make it safe and possible for us all to visit our communal vacationland; to be awed by wild places the way Americans have always been.

Rangers spend ten days at a time in the backcountry. They also log desk time at places like the Marblemount Ranger Station, where they have the tough job of eyeballing and tactfully questioning the hikers who come in for permits. It was a ranger named Sage who sent us to the High Camp trail instead of the one we’d intended to do, which was still under heavy snow, after we told him we had only one hiking pole between us and no ice axe or crampons. Sage may have pre-saved our lives, so to speak, and/or the lives of his colleagues who would have been sent to rescue us when we slipped and fell.

On our second night out, tucked in our tent at a cozy site called Hideaway Camp, I felt so grateful for Brady, Sage, the whole concept of National Parks in general and rangers in particular. It is hard to articulate what a few nights in the mountains will do for a person—spiritually, physically—but the rangers get it. And they want you to get it. Safely, and with no more mosquito bites than necessary. Because they understand: this is not just their summer resort, it is everyone’s.

I’m teaching a non-credit Introduction to Memoir class at Seattle Central this fall. Six Wednesday nights. Join me! More info here.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

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

 

Post Navigation