Monthly Archives: April 2012

Aboard the S.S. Retirement

Whatever I was going to blog about went the way of the dial phone when I found myself flying to Boston to visit my folks in their retirement village this week. Now I can’t even remember what my topic was going to be. I’m here to help out in any way I can. The last visit was to help with the house, this time the theme seems to be gardening. They see me as strong and quick and capable, exclaiming “why, you can do in two hours what would take us days….” But when my husband calls me from his office in Seattle and I mention that I’m ready for bed (9pm EST), he remarks, “I see you’ve fallen right into the culture….”

You’ve got to. This is their time. We do a lot of sitting around and it’s my time to listen. Oh sure, they want some stories of what’s going on out there, however they’ve got their own world here too. It’s a bit like seeing children off to boarding school, but the difference is that parents never have the opportunity to stay in the dormitory and see it all through their eyes. Here, you do. I’m living in their home among all their retired friends and neighbors, and for dinners we all have the option of going up to the dining hall together. The event is communal, the room is formal. Ladies dress and look lovely. Men wear jackets. And this, I’m afraid, is the end of an era. When Mom and Dad first moved here the dress code specified ties as well. Ties are gone, and you just know that jackets will be next. But for now the dining hall still has all the ambience of an elegant old cruise ship.

At sixty I feel young here. I also find remarkable role models for how to navigate gracefully through the seventies, eighties and nineties. There are always a handful of centenarians among them. Residents keep as busy, healthy, well-read, and well-traveled as possible. On campus, as on a ship, dinners are the main event. Cocktails and appetizers through specialty coffees and cordials. Starting at 5:45pm, such a meal can take hours and eat up the whole evening. Clubs schedule themselves to dine together, singles and couples make dates with each other, essentially everyone arrives knowing with whom they are dining each evening. At Mom and Dad’s table last night, a most interesting couple. He designed systems for air traffic control for major airports in his day, while she designed crossword puzzles for the New York Times, both Sunday and weekday, working with Will Shortz. Oh my. I don’t know why but I challenged her to a game of Scrabble. And the reason I’ve got to get to bed at 9pm: big match in the morning and she will be formidable.


Filed under retirement

Being Here (Where I Am)

“Do you think the wren ever dreams of a better house?” Mary Oliver

The desire to live here, there, and over there, in this, I may be the craziest person I know. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon I went looking at high rise condominiums in downtown Seattle. I wanted to see what it would be like to reinvent my life from that vantage point, overlooking the port, The Sound, and into sunsets every night. Then hours later, setting up my city lot terrace on Queen Anne Hill, I thought, how could I ever leave all this….

This is the terrace we imagined from the deck that had been out back. A stone paved and planted formal outdoor room, evocative of many places: France, New Orleans, Boston’s Nob Hill…. This is the rock wall we envisioned and the climbing hydrangea we planted that now completely covers the high wooden fence surrounding us. Assorted wrought iron pieces collected in consignment stores up and down The Main Line in Philadelphia, painted black, and cushioned in a black & white awning stripe. The pair of magnolia trees that grew from saplings to their two-story height in a few short years—such is the growing power of the Pacific Northwest. The trees are shaped like topiary, low box hedges beneath kept trim, and potted herbs lined up like sunbathers on a étagère. Into this black & white outdoor room I specified all white flowers: rhododendron, climbing hydrangea, the stand of lilies beyond the fountain, and the dinner-plate sized blossoms the pair of magnolia trees serves up. Of course, the lavender plants will bloom in a lavender color, the rosemary, a blue, chives, mauve/pink, roses will climb over the fence, and other assorted plants, such as columbine and forget-me-not, have a way of hopping or dropping in. And like friends, they are all welcome.

As a child I frequently rearranged my parents’ furniture in the night. People would wake up and bump into things. As a single person and later, married, I was all too game for every move. I even remember the moves that we didn’t make, because I had, in a sense, inhabited them. With the position that would have relocated our young family to Iowa, I pictured a house with a wrap-around porch on a prairie where one could see anyone coming over the horizon in any direction. The house, the landscape and its serenity, grew on me such that I was almost disappointed when my husband did not take that position. Iowa.

I could fill volumes with all the houses I have loved that I did not live in. “The ones that got away,” I call them. Some people have affairs; I look at houses. Perusing MLS listings, attending open houses, drawing up floor plans if I’m interested, sketching, coming up with color schemes, and re-imagining life with each one. It’s like a chemical dependency, this willingness to make a complete overhaul of one’s life. In an effort to get more than one life in, I have to wonder, might it be at the expense of one life fully realized?

Yet there is hope. While I continue to look and sketch and imagine, I do notice a waning in the energy to pull off any of these desired moves. This has come with age. For the first time in my life, the thought of moving is exhausting—something others have known all along. And while I may still harbor harbor views, all I have to do is sit still on this terrace, plant, or clean up in this garden, and I can be where I am. And this I must do more often. And keep the drama on the page.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Harder They Come

My daughter is driving to the desert as I write. She is making the trek to Coachella, the West Coast’s premier outdoor music festival for the past thirteen years in Indio, California. I have to say, good for her. One of my biggest regrets has always been missing Woodstock. I was even on the East Coast at the time. Ashley has gone far more out of her way, flying down from San Francisco to San Diego, renting a car, and will most likely post some photos as she goes. If all goes well, this blog post could be illustrated.

We knew this event was coming weeks ago as Ashley was working on her “boho disco desert hippies-from-the-future wardrobe.” I have no idea what that looks like, and so I picture the 60’s. I think I am not far off.

Here’s the thing: I wonder if she has heard the same weather report I have? A storm system is currently heading to Indio and the normally sweltering festival may experience rain, high winds, and low

temperatures. With a wardrobe, she can always layer.

More than 120 bands are scheduled to perform over the weekend at Coachella, the headliners being Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, Radiohead, and the Black Keys. Ashley tells me she’s more into the indie music, which is also represented. I’m thinking indie works with her “boho disco desert hippies-from-the-future” wardrobe. Today I pulled up the schedule, and scanned it for someone I really knew and loved… and finally found it in Jimmy Cliff, a reggae singer from the days of “The Harder They Come.” I was younger than Ashley then. Being old is finding many of your musicians on the casino circuit today. “Well, those that are still alive,” my friend adds.

So go for it, live each day, enjoy every sandwich, as they say, and I wish you all peace, love, and music. And not so much mud.


Filed under indie music, music festivals, reggae

Becoming Jane, Emily, and Joyce

The only thing I can think to blame on books is my falling way behind with films. I finally viewed, just this week, the 2007 film, “Becoming Jane.” I must do this more often. And while I may never catch up with films in general, I would like to categorically run through the complete collection of what I call writers’ films. Films like: “Adaptation,” “Sideways,” “Wonder Boys,” and “Joe Gould’s Secret.” There are so many more. “The Hours,” “Finding Forrester,” “Finding Neverland….”

“Becoming Jane” belongs on this list. In the course of the one hundred and twenty minutes of this film I was submerged in a profound tranquility that, for the most part, has remained with me all week. I’m talking about Jane Austen’s time and place, when she was twenty years old, falling in love, and well at work on her craft. The year was 1795 and I am thinking: how much easier to become a writer in simpler times! Let me explain. Jane Austen did not have to turn off all the white noise, bombastic media, and pry herself away from social media in an effort to find her own thoughts. The film, like the time, was so astonishingly quiet. The screen also went dark a lot. That’s another matter but much the same thing. When it was night it was dark, inside and out, as it should be. Candlelit rooms, playing the piano for music, and social gatherings in which Jane would read her work aloud. I am enamored with how uncluttered the psyche could be in such a setting. Clearly, the writers who came before us had this advantage. An artist requires solitude. Emily Dickenson went to extremes and protected hers with reclusion. Jane Austen had a relatively quiet house, loving family, and an idyllic woods in which she constantly went walking.

There is much in that too: living close to nature and the habit of walking. Joyce Carol Oates reflects on her own childhood in upstate New York in the 1950’s, “Because, I assume, I grew up in the country… most of my waking life when I wasn’t actually in school was in nature—meaning primarily silence, and solitude.” Intuitively, it seems, young Joyce knew to turn away from the television and radio in favor of reading, and “… hiking/ wandering/ prowling for hours, along the creek; through woods, pastures, farmland; nearly always alone, and drawn to aloneness. The old farmhouses/ barns… The Tonawanda Creek, the eerie underside of the bridge. Tramping for miles… just walking, walking.” As a novelist, Joyce Carol Oats has drawn from these early years in nearly all of her works. Today we may have to go out of our way to reach the parks and open spaces, but find them we must.

Solitude, nature, and the importance of walking. Listen to Kierkegaard on the subject of walking, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Writers understand this. Walking clears the head and seems to solve problems. Good ideas come on walks. Walking taps the well from which our stories come up, and we must go it alone and go every day.


Filed under nature, walking, writers' films, Writing