Monday, March 20, 2023

Wishing for a DMZ

 When I spent six months in Tucson, I became friends with a couple of dogs who obviously weren’t meant to be friendly. They were a pair of boxers with menacing barks but after a couple of weeks they stopped barking at me. They lived within a fenced yard with a sign that told passersby to beware of them and their personal style indicated that this was a fine idea. However they seemed to like being talked to and after a brief initiation period, they began to come as close to me as they could get, leaning against the substantial chain links of the fence. 

I never touched them because of a chat I had one day with their owner. “I don’t want them to be friendly,” he told me, but he told me their names, Chacha and Chipilone. With this crucial piece of information, my brief encounters with the dogs became more intimate and they seemed to like the increased recognition.

I also picked up a bit of Spanish vocabulary that has no single word equivalent in English. The youngest dog was named Chipilone because he was like a child who demanded every scrap of his mother’s attention for himself--and sure enough, the youngest of the boxers jammed between the older dog and me as thoroughly as the fence would allow. 

I now live in a household with two chipilones.

When I brought Mr. Fritz home to be a companion for Mulrooney. I’d been told that this tiny little cat was deferential to other felines and at first that seemed to be true. But as soon as he gained enough confidence to venture out from under the bed, he gradually began to take over, inserting himself between Mulrooney and me, Mulrooney and the food bowls, Mulrooney and the cat treats. He observed where Mulrooney liked to sleep at night and did his best to take that over too.

In spite of there being two of almost every cat essential in this very small apartment, Mr, Fritz wants it all. Annoyingly, Mulrooney has spent the last three weeks in a state of abdication, with all of his hostilities directed toward me. Any attention paid to Mr. Fritz, even the uttering of his name, depletes the supply of affection that Mulrooney knows is his. 

Mr. Fritz seems more than willing to confirm this theory. He took over the fleece jacket that’s been Mulrooney’s security blanket for the past couple of years. He’s done his level best to monopolize the bed once I’m in it. He likes nothing better than to gobble his portion of Fancy Feast and then turn toward Mulrooney’s. The one thing he hasn’t assumed possession of is Mulrooney’s little cat cave and that’s been the saving grace of this situation, if there can be any at all.

Last night Mulrooney asserted his right to the bed and Mr. Fritz disputed this for a couple of fun-filled hours. It’s like living with the Jets and the Sharks in feline form and it’s eroding my nervous fiber.

I’ve been told to separate them. Put Mr. Fritz in the bathroom and close the door. This would work wonderfully well if I had more than one bathroom or if Mr. Fritz hadn’t rejected that plan from his first minutes in this apartment. Instead he and Mulrooney have chosen their own spaces, one under the bed, one in his cat cave. There are hours in the day when anybody walking into this place would swear that no cats lived here. There are hours when I wish that were true.

The part that bothers me most about this is the look in Mulrooney’s eyes. He’s a very expressive cat with an eloquent scowl when life doesn’t go in the way he wants it to. He’s not scowling now. He has the feline version of the thousand-mile stare, something I’ve never seen before, and I have an impressive number of scratches on both forearms.

Since the afternoon of February 28th, I’ve been hyperventilating, my life consumed by nonstop turf wars. For the first time ever I’ve considered asking my doctor for Xanax and when a friend bought me a couple of cocktails the other day, a life of heavy drinking began to seem like a fine idea indeed.

The truth is there’s a battle for dominance going on here and it’s not pretty. I have the flesh wounds to prove it. 

They’ll work it out, I’ve been told--but will I survive the process?

Slowly I’m beginning to believe this place just isn’t big enough for all of us.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Getting Over It

 My mother once told me her 70s were her favorite decade as she grew older and I never expected mine to be anything other than an extension of what I felt was late middle age. Then covid came along and slapped me upside the head, giving me a foretaste of how it would be to grow very, very old. 

I was luckier than many. I didn’t lose any of my senses except for my sense of adventure. For thirteen days all I wanted to do was sleep or sit. A trip down the hall to the garbage chute felt like climbing Mount Everest, an exercise in brute physical endurance. Worst of all, for almost two weeks I “lost my invaluable curiosity.”

This phrase comes from a sentence in Tove Jansson’s Fair Play. A man who is 92 tells a woman who has just turned seventy, “Do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent--lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

I first read this around the same time of year that I’m remembering it now,back in 2013, and I recognized its truth immediately. Curiosity and interest have been the underpinning of my life from the time I was very small right up until I took to my bed and my armchair last year. 

I had never before been so thoroughly immobile for such a long time. Even when the fateful T-line refused to show up on my test strip, it took much longer for my physical energy to come back. When it did, it returned in inches. My body had learned the principle of inertia and it was reluctant to launch itself into motion again.

There seems to be a link between physical and mental energy because when my body wanted to remain still, my mind followed that example. “Why bother?” was its response to any idea that occurred to me. All through a glorious summer, “between the motion and the act fell the shadow,” and the shadow was cast by fear.

Except for a fear of swimming and another of wild monkeys, there are few things that have frightened me enough to keep me from doing them. For most of my life if I ever felt apprehensive, that feeling vanished when I confronted it. However the post-covid me became almost paralyzed when compared to my pre-covid self. Inactivity, I thought, might keep me from ever getting the virus again. Instead it steeped me in I hated most about covid: indifference, lack of interest, and torpor.

I’m three months away from my covid anniversary. I still have to force myself to take a walk and when I do, it’s half the length of the ones I took before the end of May in 2022. My mind reflects that abbreviated activity, with writing that barely extends to the length of a decent blog post. I still wear a mask in an unmasked world and even if I could afford a flight to places I yearn to see, I’d have to do a spot of self-hypnosis to make myself sit on a plane for fifteen hours. 

Only recently, as I reread random pieces of writing that I’d done since the beginning of 2020, have I realized that I, as well as the world around me, am recovering from years of trauma that extend beyond the advent of covid. My life has been dominated by uneasiness since the election of Trump. In the beginning of 2017, I was in Shenzhen reading about the ban against Muslim travelers entering the U.S. I read reports of our President’s words in the South China Morning Post and cringed in a mixture of embarrassment and revulsion that would last for four years.

The George Floyd Uprising deepened the dystopian world around all of us, with the police and National Guard attacking protesters with tear gas, flash-bangs, and the LRAD “sound cannons” that induce pain and nausea. By then I was so accustomed to the lock-down form of house arrest that I didn't join the marchers and will always regret that. The storming of the Capitol Building was a horror beyond all imagining. Then came the vaccines that were almost impossible to get--I only received mine because a grandchild drove me to a small town that was hours away. The surreal quality of life has left its scars and because I’ve always been an emotional lightning rod, mine go deep and refuse to go away.

What is prudent? What is madness? How to embrace being alive in the way I always have? Maybe by jettisoning my mask and making myself walk with a sense of adventure again. Maybe by trusting the doses of vaccine that have been pumped into me and kept me from hospitalization a year ago. Maybe by choosing life and once again reclaiming my “invaluable curiosity.” 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Me Too

 Dance and music are waiting on a day that begins with fog but became light before 7:30--only several weeks ago it was still dark when my alarm went off. It's a milky light that woke me this morning and almost makes me grateful for the illuminated crane. So much for red skies at night, although perhaps pink doesn’t count. 

Last evening brought a pink so vibrant it should qualify, with a pale pink that colored the underbellies of clouds. I snapped and snapped but none of the colors came true to what I saw. Still I had to keep trying to catch them so I could show the radiance and beauty of what I saw, online.

Devices prove that photography is an art that requires precise instruments and painstaking technique. Having an eye for it is only the beginning. The rest is work. But we live in an age when we all are artists, if we choose. And choose we do, over and over again, swamping the internet with our exercises in creativity--paintings, photographs, pieces of writing. 

This should be a fine thing, and just might be in theory. The screen and keyboard have been transformed into tiny computers that accompany us wherever we go with larger ones dominating our time when we’re at home. We all have the same instruments that lets us make what we think of as art and we all exhibit it on our own private galleries through social media. The process is effortless and there’s the problem. The old cliche, “This could have been done by my four-year-old” is true now. Most of the pieces seen online are instinctive and reflexive--think it, see it, brush it and there it is--instant art.

Because this is what we see every time we go online, we become used to a standard of work that relies solely on a quick inspiration. Swamped with unedited writing, hastily snapped shots, smeared daubs of color, we’ve created a kind of artistic democracy where everything is “liked.” It’s the equivalent of a doting parent saying “Good job.”

Unfortunately we’re losing the ability to recognize art that’s been accomplished with craftsmanship and care. Any old sentence will do, just slap it out and carry on. Any image captured by a convenient camera is good enough--it’s pretty, isn’t it? And if Rothko could become renowned for painting squares of color, why can't we?

Art was never fostered by democratic principles. It’s grounded upon education of both the artist and the audience--not with MFAs but through the knowledge that comes from being surrounded by work that's burnished and thoughtful. 

I’ve been reading Geoff Dyer’s latest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer, a collection of his pandemic writing. Like many books that have been published lately, this is a kind of journal, and like many books written by Geoff Dyer, it seems to meander while always making provocative observations and solid points. What separates this from other pandemic-spawned volumes is the depth of Dyer’s well-furnished mind and the disciplined theme that runs through his essays. These pieces aren’t blog posts, a matter of whatever was on his mind that he tossed out while having his morning coffee. Although he encompasses subjects as disparate as Nietzche and Burning Man, he focuses his thoughts on a single topic, one he examines with the brilliance and rapid turns of thought that come from a kaleidoscopic intellect. His writing is based on a lifetime of reading and learning, not from an hour of putting unconsidered sentences on a page. 

The extension of “Anyone’s an artist” leads to “No one is an artist.” Doing things for pleasure without effort isn’t art. It’s therapy.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Free? Gee, No Thanks--I'll Pass.

 I was given an electric grill on a Buy Nothing site and had a few misgivings even while I was carrying it home. It was too big to fit in my canvas bag and it was rather heavy. 

It had seemed as though it was a good idea when I’d seen its photograph online. Even in my old apartment, using the stove in summer had guaranteed a poor night’s sleep. In this one with its windows trapping the rays of the sun right up until it disappears, roasting and broiling would probably cause heat prostration. 

I felt a bit of excitement when I thought of making grilled chicken, Thai style, and when I went to buy groceries the idea of a hamburger refused to go away. I found brioche rolls, some Tillamook cheddar, and then I approached the meat counter.

Since I buy my food at Trader Joe’s, I haven’t glanced at a butcher’s department in over a year. I had no idea that this was where dreams go to die. This particular one was within PCC, a grocery store not noted for its low prices, but as I looked, my sticker shock was almost comic. Why this spot wasn’t under armed guard was beyond my comprehension--even the small packs of ground beef hovered around ten dollars while the steaks and roasts might as well have been covered in platinum.

I quickly assessed the cost of my prospective hamburger as coming in at $25.99, which made the $17.00 hamburgers in my neighborhood seem downright cheap, especially since they were a matter of immediate gratification with no clean-up afterward. Staggering a bit under this moment of reality therapy, I put the brioche rolls back on the shelf and came home with bread and cheese instead. A grilled cheese sandwich would soothe my rumpled ambitions and I made one in my cast iron skillet, for comparison purposes. Later I planned to do the same thing on the electric grill.

This project was a challenge from the minute I walked into my kitchen with an appliance that, unopened, was almost as big as the top of my apartment-sized range. The only visible small feature was the length of its electrical cord which extended as far as my electric kettle--about 12 inches. Since I have only one outlet in my miniscule kitchen and that is positioned squarely above the sink, even my morning coffee required a spot of logistical planning before I could heat the water. Coincidentally both the kettle and the grill are made by Hamilton Beach, a manufacturer venerable enough to be aware of this design flaw. However judging by the hundreds of reviews that complain about it, they simply don’t give a jolly damn.

The only way I could plug my new acquisition into a power source was by putting it on a large cutting board and positioning it over the sink. This was a solution that gave me a few qualms but it seemed stable and secure, so I plugged in the grill. A light went on in a cheery manner but I was surprised that there was no power switch. I put my hand above the grill and sure enough, it was getting warm.

There was a nice little knob to control the temperature that had the same range as my oven, and a light that was still dark said it was “preheat.” I pushed at it optimistically but it wasn’t a button. Not until after I made my way through a thicket of product reviews did I discover that “preheat” only went on after the grill reached its desired temperature. Clearly whoever designed this had a shaky command of the English language.

I turned the grill up to 450 and plopped in my sandwich, feeling puzzled that the lid refused to shut completely. When I checked it five minutes later, one side was nicely toasted while the other was lukewarm. I flipped it over with a tinge of annoyance and left it to its own devices. 

Suddenly a cloud began to hover in the kitchen and I rushed over to investigate. Nothing was in flame. What had drawn my attention seemed to be steam, issuing from the incompletely closed lid. I opened it and saw a little river of melted cheese coming from a sandwich that resembled a pancake. One side was a trifle singed while the other was still slightly pallid. The cheese on the grill rapidly congealed and was easy to remove but other than that I could see no advantage to using this behemoth to make one of my primary comfort foods. My cast iron skillet definitely did this better.

I unplugged the grill and left it to cool, a matter that took more time than I thought was necessary. But then the only lightweight part of this thing was the little drip tray that rested under the cooking element, a miniscule pan made from a flimsy plastic.

It was all however clean in a matter of seconds, which may be its only advantage that I could see. If I lowered the lid, anything I grilled would be flattened. If I left it open, the grill would take longer to heat and to cook, while releasing heat that would probably be almost as warm as my oven. Plus there was the sad truth that if the lid was open, this appliance would be much larger than the cutting board I had placed it upon.

I ate my squished sandwich that would have tasted a whole lot better if it had been acquainted with olive oil and read reviews to get some information about the giant in my kitchen. Apparently I’d been wise not to use oil; there were reports of kitchen fires that had been ignited while grilling chicken. The weight of the lid not only flattened--it extracted all the juices from any piece of meat that rested beneath it--and the tiny drip pan cracked under pressure. People who used their grill to fry bacon often found grease all over their kitchen counter. Suddenly I understood why the woman who gave this to me said she had rarely used it.

I thought of leaving this in the free basket where people in my apartment pick up unwanted items but the fire hazard component worried me. This clearly wasn’t an item that could be plugged in and ignored, what with the flaming chicken and potential for grease fires. What posed as a household convenience was actually a weapon of mass destruction that probably shouldn’t be in the hands of old and forgetful people. 

I decided I’ll keep the damned thing but I’ll save it for the height of summer’s heat. By that time I’ll have at least one table on my terrace where I’ll be able to put this, tethered with a long extension cord. In the open air, any odors that escape from the insufficiently closed lid will dissipate quickly and the heat will just float off into the blazing sunlight. As for potential fires, I’ll just have to keep a box of baking soda close at hand and be certain that I stay nearby myself. And if what issues from it is as unpalatable as my grilled cheese sandwich, this monster will go down the garbage chute, in a bag that will keep any curious sightseer from picking it up and starting a conflagration in our building.

“Free is always good,” a Malaysian woman told me once and even at the time I silently disagreed. Now after three unsuccessful Buy Nothing attempts, I’m ready to give up. Free is turning out to be a massive pain in the neck.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Not Much. How About You?

 Few questions annoy me more than “What have you been up to lately?” and “Have any plans for the day?” Because I’m a woman who embraces spontaneity, any plans I make are whatever appeals most at the moment and can change in the middle of a single step. As for what I’ve been up to, I’d love for my answer to be “No good,” but the truth is much less interesting and I hate to be a bore.

I read, I write, I walk in a dying portion of the city. Without travel, most of my life is interior and I wonder if that’s the way it will be forever. I’ve become that person I loathe, a woman without stories, which is probably why queries about what I’ve been doing or what I will do flick me on the raw. And yet everyone seems to feel this is an appropriate conversation opener, from bank tellers to baristas to members of my own family.

When I was a bookseller, the question I was asked most frequently was “What have you been reading lately?” It was one that turned me mute, as my brain shuffled through all the books I’d made my way through in the past week or so. They blurred into the books I’d handled, the ones I’d recommended to customers, the ones I’d chosen for the store’s newsletter and made me want to reply, “The National Inquirer.” Eventually I’d choose one title from the literary mush that clogged my mind and stammer out a brief sentence or two about it. But that was a problem of abundance. Now whatever I have to serve up is embarrassingly meager and often repetitive. 

It’s a pre-covid custom that deserves to die and hangs on only because “How are you?” or “How have you been?” dabble in matters that nobody wants to discuss. Health may become the latest conversational taboo, replacing sex, religion, and politics. It might lead to a mention of death and there’s a topic nobody wants to touch upon. 

I’ve never been adept at small talk, which might be the reason why for years I cut my own hair. The stream of pleasant, inconsequential conversation that’s essential at parties and dinner tables is a skill I’ve never acquired. Since there have been few meals and other gatherings with strangers in the past three years, I’ve lost any pretense I might have had of “working a room.” But the mental paralysis I faced in those past situations has infiltrated daily life in this persistent and annoying form of interrogation. I’d gladly return to “Read any good books lately?”

Better yet, why not ask “What’s been on your mind lately?” Perhaps not posed by those amiable bank tellers but it wouldn’t go amiss when used in conversation with family and friends. Replies could range from “Why is it so difficult to find a good lipstick without paying a fortune?” to “What in the hell can be done about the opioid use on our streets?” Who knows? When we talk about what we think, this may just lead to what we’ve done. Want to try it?

Friday, February 3, 2023

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Seattle?

Unearthing a time capsule isn’t always delightful. When I was given two fashion tabloids that had been supplements to the Seattle Weekly, one from fall of 1998 and one from spring of 1999, I was eager to pore over them. Two women whom I knew, one of whom has become a close friend, had feature pieces in both and I’m always curious about other people’s writing. This curiosity held more than my average avidity. I didn’t meet the writer who’s now my friend until much later, after she had become one of Seattle’s fashion doyennes, and I was eager to discover another one of her facets. I quickly found that her writing sparkled with the same panache that she brings to everything she does, while the other writer labored under heavy metaphors, linking Nordstrom’s newly-opened flagship store to Moby-Dick. 

After reading these pieces, I leafed through the remaining pages and began to feel the same heaviness that hits me when I listen to a eulogy. These supplements were printed during the time that I bounced between Seattle and Bangkok. When I had returned in 1998 for a year, one of my sons told me that if he dropped me blindfolded into many parts of downtown, when I was finally allowed to see, I wouldn’t know where I was. That was true. In the time I’d been gone, downtown Seattle had woken up.

Although in 1998, Bellevue Square and University Village shopping malls still dominated fashion advertising, the editorial pages showed Prada and Versace from Barney’s New York, a store called Fast Forward, Nordstrom, and Mario’s. Only the last two are still alive. But what struck me hardest were the ads for small shops that could be found on downtown streets: Betty David who sold “hand-painted lamb shearling coats” on South Main Street, Moda Xpress and Dansko in Belltown, FABU in Sodo, Design Products Clothing, “Established in 1973 by Vicki Tsuchida, a woman who wanted you to look good,” in Pioneer Square,  Carroll’s Fine Jewelry, “Seattle’s Oldest Jeweler,” was on 1427 Fourth Avenue, where it would die ten years later and L/T /Denny, ‘Diamond Importers and Fine Jewelers” were open “by appointment only” in the Florentine Building on Occidental Avenue. Nordstrom’s takeover of Frederick & Nelson’s former dominance of Fifth Avenue rated a feature article but of the downtown heavy-hitters, only Westlake Center placed an ad. They didn’t have to. Although both I. Magnin’s and Frederick & Nelson had disappeared, Nordstrom and the Bon Marche were legendary magnets that regularly drew shoppers downtown, and Pacific Place, called Catalog Corners by two contemptuous Pine Street store owners, was ready to open, bringing Barney’s and Tiffany’s close to Nordstrom. 

By 1998, Ardour and Ped competed on First Avenue, selling shoes and accessories in what the Weekly called SOMA (“the retail flurry south of the Pike Place Market.” David Lawrence sold designer clothes on Fourth Avenue, closing in 2010 for a move to Bellevue. San Marco sold Shoes, Clothing & Accessories” on 6th Avenue, “across from Pacific Place,” while StellaBeam offered style on Stewart Street near the market. Pacific Place was doing its best to lure mall shoppers from Bellevue with Barney’s, Max Mara, Bebe, and Helly Hanson, with Sephora down the street. But although its success drew other national retailers--and a sprinkling of international ones too--small shops began to lose their customers.

Who cared? Downtown glittered with names like Gucci at Fifth and Union and more accessible ones like Ann Taylor and The Gap. Local designer Luly Yang and classic boutique Nina McLemore nestled in the shadow of the Olympic Hotel and there were rumors that a Ritz-Carlton was eyeing a location next to the subterranean shopping of Rainier Square. A children’s shop from the Netherlands called Oililly might soon appear in Pacific Place, going up against Flora and Henri on First Avenue where a local designer made French-inspired clothing  for the very young. 

Although it was always under attack from the malls that drew shoppers far from the downtown core, the heart of Seattle was a place of possibility at the end of the 20th Century and into the 21st. Even with the strong hit it took during the financial debacle of 2008, it still had the feel of a real city right up until the dawn of 2020. Office workers, tourists, and local shoppers made the streets vibrant and bustling before Covid shut the city down in March of that year. Now three years later, that scene is almost unimaginable. 

Will Seattle’s downtown ever come back to what it was? Considering that far-flung Seattle clings stubbornly to its neighborhoods, I don’t think it will. It was never really a place that the city’s residents thought was essential. They didn’t want New York. They wanted coziness and they found it in shops and restaurants near their homes, turning neighborhoods into little villages. It was the tech business that grew and nourished Seattle’s core and when the city decided to tax it heavily, those businesses created their own company town in South Lake Union. Even before Covid, online shopping and restaurants that catered to people whose salaries soared far above Seattle’s average were draining the life from what used to be the central business district. 

These two fashion supplements provide testimony to that prediction. Almost every downtown store mentioned in their pages have gone, some of them having sunk without even an online trace. Fast Forward? StellaBeam? Gone, baby, gone while the stores that once filled Westlake Center and Pacific Place are distant memories in what amounts to a retail ghost town. 

I wish I’d never stepped back into what used to be. The memories of what was in place thirty years ago are still too close for me to examine them with the perspective of a social historian. What threatens to replace that lush brightness and promise of the past is a tourist mecca, linking the Pike Place Market, the waterfront, and the cruise ship terminal, with everything else existing as a sideshow. When I look at the sadness I feel about this new city, I realize I’m getting old.

“It is Margaret you mourn for.” Damn straight, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Little Boys in the Rain


I often wish I could edit my first book, streamlining run-on sentences and reworking some of the stories. But I never wish for a different cover. Nana Chen's photograph makes my heart sing even now, fourteen years after I first held this book in my hands. Perfection.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

How My Light Is Spent

I grew up with a father whose vision became severely limited several years after he'd come to Alaska and I myself turned out to be nearsighted to the point of embarrassment at an early age. I wore glasses from the time I was six, just so I could see the blackboard in our one-room schoolhouse. Eyesight was always a topic of prime concern in my family and when I first found Milton's sonnet that began, "When I consider how my light was spent," I immediately thought of my father.

I've only known the sharp clarity with which other people see the world when I've put on a pair of glasses but I've learned that I prefer seeing the world through a myopic veil that conceals imperfections. It was only because of my remaining cataract that I recently had vision tests and it was a good thing that I did. Although I don't have a hole in my retina, I do have macular degeneration in both of my eyes.

I'm not alone. One estimate claims that 11 million people in the U.S. have some form of this condition, which can only be restrained, not cured. I take a special vitamin twice a day and wear sunglasses on bright days in an effort to keep this at bay. I was originally told that a diet of fish and leafy green vegetables was mandatory but, like almost everything I was told by that doctor, this is faulty information, disproven by recent studies. Even so, I've limited meat so severely that I'm almost a vegetarian, but not fanatically so. When I found that a nearby Thai restaurant served khao kha moo, fatty slices of braised pork leg with rice, I was devouring a plate of it on the following afternoon. "May" and "might" aren't words that are going to curtail my enjoyment; they never have.

Few people go blind from macular degeneration, although some are reduced to peripheral vision over time. My definition of it is simple and probably flawed: my eyes are wearing out.

This isn't surprising. I've been a gluttonous reader for the past sixty-six years, racing through a book a day ever since I learned to read at four.  And because of severe motion sickness that's plagued me from childhood, I stare out the window of any vehicle I'm in instead of reading or even turning my head to talk to the person sitting beside me. This trained me to observe everything I pass through and makes me damned poor company on any road trip. It also gave me a prevailing hunger for fresh vistas and turned me into a traveler who lives through my eyes.

But nothing lasts. Although I refuse to acknowledge it in any significant way, I'm growing old. In fact, some people might describe me as an old woman. If that's true, I'm a fortunate old woman whose major failing is a disregard for calendars and a predilection for arriving at an appointment a day ahead of time. (Thank goodness for virtual calendars on phones and tablets, with their annoying reminders.)

My hips, knees, and feet still work. My brain and heart still function creditably well. My memory occasionally falters when I try to remember an author, a book title, or the name of a movie, but that's what Google's for. We've all outsourced our memories, haven't we?

My pace is slower than it was twenty years ago and I have wrinkles. Tant pis, as I learned to say in my introductory French class at a Catholic girls' school. I suppose that fading vision is a reasonable deficiency that comes with age.

But in the time I have left, be it years or decades, I plan to spend my light in the same greedy, pleasurable way that I always have, devouring books and absorbing the world through my retinas, taking pleasure in light, shadow, and color, snapping images that delight me with my phone, loving every second of vision that I'm fortunate enough to have been given.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


We all have our definitions of who we are and mine has always been that I'm healthy. That was a good thing, because for many years I had no health insurance. During that time, I developed high blood pressure, which tarnished my self-image a trifle, but when I reached the age of Medicare, I began to control it with a daily pill.

But swallowing a drug every morning wasn't what I wanted to do, so when I turned 70, I began to walk more and eat differently. Within a month of that new regimen, I no longer had high blood pressure and my self-image began to restore itself. My waistline was returning and I walked up to eight miles a day. As a septuagenarian, I I felt better than I had in a very long time, with just a couple of simple changes in the way I lived.  Getting older was easier than it was cracked up to be, I told myself.

Then I went to an ophthalmologist to have my second cataract operation. In the barrage of tests, she told me I had a hole in the macular region of my retina, showing me a spot on a photograph that she said was the hole. Telling me she wouldn't remove my cataract until a retina specialist had determined the size of the hole, she left me with her diagnosis and a lot of uncertainty.

Being a woman of my time, I went home and consulted the internet, going to sites like the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical, and the American Academy of Opthalmology. As my doctor had told me, if the hole was small it might close on its own. However if it were not, it would need a procedure that would result in me keeping my head face down for anywhere from three days to two weeks. This was a horrifying thought and one that preyed on my mind quite a bit for the two weeks between the diagnosis of the hole and the assessment of its size.

There was no macular hole. However after the misdiagnosis, my blood pressure had risen by thirteen points. I was certain that the relief of learning that the only surgery I faced was cataract removal would bring it back down to normal levels.

Two weeks later I went back to my opthalmologist, my faith in her wavering a bit after having her statement of certainty proved wrong. However cataract removal was something Doctors Without Borders do in undeveloped countries under field conditions. Certainly she would be able to handle this without any difficulty; her academic and medical pedigree was high enough that I had no reason to worry and I was in good spirits when I showed up for a few tests.

The technician returned after taking the test results to my doctor, saying "She wants one more." This involved putting numbing drops in both eyes while I was lying down but after the right eye was done, he said he needed to do it again with an assistant. "I need two hands," he said.

While he was getting someone to help him, the right side of my lower face began to go numb and I touched it with my fingertips, assessing how much skin had been affected. A few minutes later, the fingers of my right hand began to tingle and I was getting concerned. "Some of the drops may have run down your face but I'll get the doctor," the technician said.

It took at least ten minutes for him to reappear with the doctor and I got off the table to get my phone, just in case I needed to call 911. Puzzled and beginning to feel alarmed, I was relieved when the doctor
entered the room. When I told her what had happened, she told me my symptoms were that of a stroke, that the drops had nothing to do with what I was feeling, and that this was a neurological issue. She said nothing more as I stared at her, trying to process this information.

After what seemed like a long period of silence, I said "I'm going home." "Let us know if there's anything we can do to help you," she said and I replied "There's nothing you could do for me."

I was shaking by the time I reached the elevator and called my primary care physician. She was busy but I was seen by a nurse practitioner who ran me through the physical tests for a stroke, took my blood pressure, and gave me an EEG. My heart was normal, my body showed no stroke symptoms, but my blood pressure was at 110.

Two weeks later, my blood pressure is at normal levels but during that time, I felt shaken. I still am. I continue to have faith that I'm a healthy woman but I brushed far too close to a belief that I am not, through misinformation given me by a doctor who pronounced these things with certitude.

That woman is no longer my doctor. My customary skepticism about medical professionals has increased. Always a "difficult patient," I'm now a 21st century female Diogenes, carrying a lamp to raise in search of honesty in a profession that seems to have forgotten the oath of "Do no harm."

Thursday, February 21, 2019


I never thought I had any. Wherever I lived was always temporary, and I liked it that way. When my husband bought our first house, the sentence that reconciled me to the purchase was made by our realtor, "The average American buys a new house every five years." Ha. Those were the days, back in the mid-70s.

Within eight years, we moved to the next place and after that my life was a long succession of apartments, with dreams of going farther afield. Eventually I would live in eight different dwelling places in Bangkok and Penang before returning to four different ones in Seattle. In those years I learned how to KonMari my possessions to fit into two suitcases.

That part is easy. What isn't is leaving the people I care about.

Now that I'm looking for another place to live, a friend recently asked me "Why not Bangkok?" It's a logical question, since that's been my alternate universe for over twenty years. But she is the reason why, along with some other close friends and my family. I can do it. I know how to do it, but the older I get, the higher the price becomes.

Time is infinite right up until we reach our sixties. Then we begin to assess and budget how we spend it. When I was a mere slip of a girl at 45, leaving was as easy as getting a passport. Now I know that no matter how much I love my life overseas and how many friends I may make in another part of the world, the ache of not being able to share it with the people I care about most grows stronger every year. When one of my sons came to visit me twice in Thailand, after each visit was over I cried for two days, and when my longest standing Bangkok friend returned to the States after years of being my mainstay in that city, I was unable to go downstairs to wave goodbye as he walked out the front door of our house. Expat living, when you do it on your own, is damned hard, even though it's materially more comfortable than existing in the Old Country.

Today when I went to Craigslist and examined my three different staple sites, I found several possibilities in this area. Only one was for Seattle and I'm pretty sure it was either a scam or someone else has already grabbed it. But it made me wonder. Are rents coming down in the Puget Sound market? And would I pay the top end of what I can in order to stay here, even though Tucson offers more comfort and Queens is the pinnacle of my desires? When I think of the pleasure of conversations with my friends and the joy of spontaneous visits with my sons, I say yes. I claim roots.