Cold Snap

There are currently half a dozen blooms on the three rose bushes in our front yard. They’re not the full, sultry blooms of high summer, but they still unfurl defiantly against the grey November sky, shaking off raindrops as they stretch wide.

Sedona Rose in November

They’re in for a nasty surprise. We’ve been living a mild fall — 50’s, sunny, only the occasional rainstorm. But this week, the cold arrives. It’s supposed to drop below freezing tonight. So they say. So it feels.

In September I wrote that I was not ready for summer to end. And I wasn’t — I let it go begrudgingly, kicking and screaming the whole way. But the sunny fall eased me into the next season, soothed the transition.

This weekend — just in time, it seems — we got the house ready for winter. Mulched the flower beds, brought in the delicate potted plants, turned off the outdoor hoses so the pipes won’t freeze and burst. By Saturday evening, there was a damp bite to the air, the kind of chill unique to the Northwest. We went inside and pulled on sweaters and turned up the heat.

Maybe it was the act of physical preparation, but I feel ready. I feel ready for extra comforters, for nutmeg and allspice, for the windows to fog up from brewing soups. I’m ready for hibernation and creativity, snuggling up and letting the mind wander.

Cat snuggled under a blanket.
This one is clearly ready for hibernation.

The cliche about Russian novels being so long because of the long winters — there must be a truth to that. Dark nights inspire the imagination to run amuck.

 

My Fellow Americans

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have a complicated relationship with patriotism.

In college, I minored in history, focusing mainly on early 20th century United States and Latin America. Studying those two surprisingly related topics — well, you don’t come out of it with the greatest view of our nation’s past. It’s a very different perspective than your typical high school course. Our country has a history of doing really shitty things, and an equally prevalent history of glossing over them for future generations.

Because of this (and let’s be honest, probably also because of many, many other reasons), I’ve never been your “rah rah” patriot type. Blind patriotism serves no purpose. Nor does blind cynicism. You study history, it shows one thing clearly: there is a lot of grey. Black and white rarely exist.

If you study past events — if you pay even a sliver of attention to current events — it’s easy to feel like our country has lost it way (if it ever had one to begin with). Jump on in the handbasket, we can all ride to hell together.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join a group of World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington DC. I’d never been to “the other Washington” before. From what you’d hear on the news, you’d think the city is Gomorrah reincarnated — a hot bed of corruption, the living embodiment of everything wrong with America. Maybe it is. Here is what I saw:

At every memorial we visited, I saw strangers approach a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say, “Thank you.”

I saw a protest in progress directly in front of our nation’s capitol, proceeding unmolested, with no guards or policemen telling them to move along.

I saw smudged handprints on the Declaration of Independence.

At the Vietnam Memorial, I watched a family take paper and pencil and create a stone rubbing of a man named Smith.

Also in front of the White House, I saw a smiling group of people — men, women and children — unfurl a Kurdistan flag and take a family photo.

One thing that’s easy to forget while reading the history books — it’s all made up of people. History if palpable. It’s complicated and evolving. The Americans who came before us did a lot of good — they also did a lot of bad. But if you take a close look at people… I think over the long, slow curve of history, our arc trends towards progress.

United States Post Office.
United States Post Office.

DSC00934

The White House

The National Archives
The National Archives.

Column on the National Archives.

The National Archives.

DC Metro.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Natinoal World War II Memorial
National World War II Memorial.
World War II Memorial
Ceremony honoring the veterans at the World War II memorial.
My grandfather, World War II veteran.
My grandfather, World War II veteran.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Washington Monument.

DSC01090

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Honor Flight Honor Guard.
The veterans being greeted by an honor guard on their return home.

Summer Slipping

Last Friday, I took the ferry back from Bainbridge and watched a red sun slip behind the Olympic range. A perfect moment in a shamefully beautiful corner of the world — but something was amiss. I turned to a friend and asked, “What time is it?”

She looked at her phone. “7:45. Too early for the sun to be going down.”

Bainbridge_Sunset

Quickening days are the first indicator of what’s to come. I love fall, don’t get me wrong — turning leaves and snuggly sweaters and low light cutting through crisp air. It’s a season of unwinding, preparing for dormancy. After the go-go-go of summer, fall is a much-needed letdown.

But I’m not ready for dormancy. Somehow when I had my back turned, summer slipped away.

The hammock colony stares at us from the backyard, neglected, colorful cocoons swaying with no occupants. House projects remain only grand ambitions. The local lake taunts from a distance, unvisited. Edits to my book — oh man, remember how I was going to have that done by July 1? HAHAHAH.

When I look back over the summer, the only thing I can remember doing? Work. Work consumed all, bored into every facet of my brain, and while I wasn’t paying attention, summer ticked on.

I know, objectively, that that’s not true — I did things other than work. I spent time with friends and family. I took a beach trip, got some fly fishing in. Why, next week we even get to go on a vacation — a final “hoorah” to end the season.

But I swear when I woke up yesterday, it was June. Last night I wrapped up in my heavy sweatpants and hoodie. This morning when I got up for my morning run, 5:45 had gone dark. I blinked and three months disappeared. That’s the long con of time, isn’t it? It tricks you into thinking it’s infinite, but as you get older, you stop paying attention for just one second and half a year is gone.

Manzanita Adventure Weekend

This past weekend Byron and I packed up the dog and the car headed down to the Oregon coast. We met up with a group of my best college friends — and I just about exploded with nerdy glee when my new camera arrived just in time for the trip. I realized a few weeks ago that my old camera is now technologically outdated — the photos it takes, they just ain’t lookin’ so hot. So based on some friends’ recommendations (thanks, Lauren and Hen!), I took the plunge.

Oregon proved to be the perfect testing ground. Sun, beach, epic trees… what more could a gal ask for when trying to figure out the difference between shutter speed, F stops and ISO?

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford. Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Peaches and blackberries. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford

Louie the Dog. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

 

Rockaway Beach. photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Swimming at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

If you get a chance to visit the small sleepy town of Manzanita, I highly recommend it. It is a magical beach in a special corner of the world.

The One Glaring Problem with “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Spoiler-phobes, this post should be relatively safe for you — there are a few minor plot points discussed, but nothing big.

I’m going to start off by saying that Guardians of the Galaxy — the new Marvel flick starring Andy Dwyer, erm, I mean Chris Pratt — is FUN. Just pure good entertaining fun. I haven’t grinned that much in a theater in a LONG time. Go check it out if you haven’t, it comes highly recommended from this camp (and literally everyone else I’ve talked to who’s seen it).

That said — when Byron and I left the theater and got in the car to head home, I turned to him and said, “You know what my one annoyance with the movie was?”

“What?”

“They didn’t let Zoe Saldana’s character DO anything.”

His immediate reaction: “I KNOW!”

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, billed as “The Deadliest Woman in the Whole Galaxy.” This is well established in the movie, her supposed deadliness. She’s been programmed since childhood to be an assassin — she’s even been surgically modified to be more of a Badass Killing Machine — and the viewer gets the impression that she’s unstoppable.

UNTIL she meets Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, aka our main hero. And then apparently she can’t do anything.

Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, she meets Quill and can’t even steal a small orb from him. Because she gets knocked out by a raccoon. I mean, a kickass raccoon, but still. Raccoon vs. Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy? Come on. Throughout the rest of the movie, she gets saved by Quill not once, but twice. Once the cogs of the movie start turning, Gamora seems to exist to either a) motivate our hero, or b) serve as his new love interest.

Which just… UUUGGGGHHH.

Gamora’s character made me immediately think of this article by Tasha Robinson: “We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome.” Robinson’s article starts out with an example from another movie — but this quote applies directly to Gamora as well:

She’s wise. She’s principled. She’s joyous. She’s divided. She’s damaged. She’s vulnerable. She’s something female characters so often aren’t in action/adventure films with male protagonists: She’s interesting.

Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do.

Robinson gives a checklist to see if your female character perhaps fits the bill of the Trinity Syndrome — “the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene.” Gamora hits a lot of the marks.

(Credit where credit’s due — Gamora DOES have a big fight scene at the end of the movie. But that felt weirdly anticlimactic to me after everything else.)

This may all seem like minor quibbling. And it kind of is — I really DID enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy. But I’m annoyed because it was SO close to being a perfect movie. There was so much potential for Gamora to be a really kickass character. Instead, she’s given wooden, exposition-laden dialogue and serves as a catalyst for our hero. Excuse me, but I think I’ve seen this play out before.

Maybe there’s still hope. There’s obviously going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Maybe they’ll give Gamora something really kickass to do in THAT movie. You’re ALMOST there, Marvel — I know you can do it.

Crossing Off the Learning List

Yesterday at work we got to attend a talk by Arianna Huffington of… well, yeah, you know where she’s from. At the moment she’s promoting her new book “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” (HOLY INSANITY, sub-title!), which seems to essentially be about finding work/life balance. I have many thoughts about Ms. Huffington (one of which is she should PAY WRITERS), but it was a very interesting, thought-provoking talk. I’ll probably pick the book up from the library when it becomes available.

One of the points she brought up was “letting go” — of guilt, of grudges, of projects. The projects one stood out to me. For her 40th birthday, she took a “life inventory” and wrote down all the projects she had dreamed of completing, but realistically knew she wasn’t going to complete. “Become a really good skier.” “Become a really good cook.” She wrote all these projects down on one big list, and then threw the list away. She let the “side” projects go — which gave her more time and energy to focus on the projects that truly mattered.

I immediately thought of my “Learning List” I posted a while back. It’s a list I circle back to with guilt because I have done literally 0 things on it. Listening to Huffington talk, I realized — that’s stupid. Why am I feeling guilty about this list? I should re-evaluate. I decided to go back through and really focus on what’s important to me, and let go of the others.

The original items are italicized — the strike-outs are the items I’m nixing.

  • Pick up the flute again. Get good again. To be honest, this is probably one I SHOULD let go… but I can’t. I played the flute for 7 years, used to love it, want to love it again. But “get good again”? That may be unrealistic. I’ll just settle for “pick up the damn flute once in a while.”
  • Learn how to draw.  Nope. I’m sorry, aspiring artist in me, but this one ain’t happening. Learning to draw takes a lot of time and effort that could be spent on other things (COUGH COUGH WRITING).
  • Go get a tarot card reading. No wait I CAN STILL DO THIS ONE! Who’s going with me?
  • Learn how to drive stick shift. This just seems like a good life skillz. Ok — this IS a life skill. It’s something I actually need to learn. Damn it.
  • Re-learn how to play the guitar. As much as it pains me… I’m crossing this one off. I will never be a guitar virtuoso. It’s not in the tarot cards.
  • Learn how to write a strong, sharp short story. This one stays. It’s a specific skill in the profession I’ve chosen. RELEVANT LIFE SKILL.
  • Get re-certified in scuba diving. Sigh… no, probably not. Time, money, priorities. Again, I hate crossing this one off… but if I enjoy snorkeling more anyway, why not just stick with that?

And the one item I’m adding to the list?

  • Fly fishing. Huffington specifically mentioned fly fishing as a form of meditation, and that meditation is important, so HA FLY FISHING IT IS!

There. Re-prioritized.

So do I feel relieved, having “let go” of these things? Not yet. Mostly right now I feel kind of bummed out. But that’s reality, isn’t it? We can’t do it all — if only for the fact that as each day clicks by, that’s one less day to Get Shit Done. The Shit that really matters to you. And I’m going to focus on the ones that really matter to me.

The Lie of Spring

March is the month of expectation,
The things we do not know,
The Persons of prognostication
Are coming now.
We try to sham becoming firmness,
But pompous joy
Betrays us, as his first betrothal
Betrays a boy.
– Emily Dickinson

This past weekend I went out into the garden and pruned my three small but mighty rose bushes. You’re not supposed to give roses their spring pruning until the last chance of frost has passed, and I’m usually pretty conservative about this. But on Saturday, it was 60 degrees. The daffodils had popped. The hyacinths are showing their weird alien heads. I went out into the garden in short sleeves and inspected each rose branch, each node, taking my time and enjoying the sunshine on bare skin.

daffodil

We haven’t had a particularly trying winter around here (sorry, Polar Vortex!), but the arrival of spring excites me all the same. Every spring, I get antsy and ambitious. I make Big Plans, I make Big Lists. There’s a reason they call it “spring fever” — you definitely get the urge to throw open the windows and dust the darkest nooks and de-clutter the deepest crannies. After stagnant winter, anything feels possible. You will reenergize your life, you will re-invent, you will be the organized, inspiring and inspired person you always knew you could be.

But the weeks move on, and nothing on that list has been checked off. In fact, things keep piling up. Spring is chirping outside every window — but has the cleaning started? Have the Grand Plans been hatched? Somehow every year I forget one essential truth: the coming of spring does not halt the rest of life. Our obligations, our daily responsibilities, they march on.

And you think, well ok, next weekend. Next weekend I’ll get that pruning done. Next weekend I’ll tackle that file cabinet. But in the back of your head lurks the voice that never leaves, the one who hisses, “You should be editing. You should be plotting revisions. You should be doing research and rewriting sentences and brainstorming titles.

You realize you can’t do it all. Some things have to fall by the wayside — you’ll have to prioritize. But prioritize what? Obviously, The Book should get ALL your attention — except the sun! The sun is out there, it has arrived, it’s warming the hard earth that you’ve been staring at all winter, the earth that you’ve been dreaming of digging and planting and making beautiful. The sun is there, begging for windows to be thrown open, for dust to be shaken out, for the doldrums of life to step aside so SPRING can have your full and undivided attention.

Spring lures you in with a sense of purpose, a sense of resolve — and then you realize, spring is no different from all the others. The first daffodil doesn’t magically halt time, allowing you to get everything done. The passage of time moves on — it was that passing that brought spring in the first place. After spring comes summer, and summer comes fall. And then we’re back at winter again, waiting with bated breath for that first daffodil.

I should bolt the windows, lock the doors, ignore spring’s arrival. I should put my nose in my book and focus all my concentration there. But then the whiff of hyacinth will come in through my front door, and the promise of spring will fool me once again.

The Monsters Are Alright

“What’s happening on this page?”

“That…. alien. Is talking to Calvin.”

“Is Calvin in jail?”

“Well… yes, he’s in jail.”

“… is that caterpillar dead?”

“Uh, no, I think it’s just resting.”

You don’t realize how un-kid-friendly your house is until you have kids over. Then you look around and say, “Huh. Nothing here is child appropriate.” But desperate times call for desperate measures. When our goddaughter Kara came to visit, I searched our bookshelves for a book — any book — that might work for a 4-year-old.

Most books we own don’t even contain pictures. Want some Hemingway, kid? Maybe a little Malcolm X, or some dystopian science fiction? We got that! And then I saw it, on the bottom shelf of the last bookcase — The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book.

Growing up, my sister and I bickered over who got the comics section of the newspaper, and the first strip I always read was Calvin and Hobbes. I loved that duo — I loved how weird Calvin was, how brave he was, how outrageous he was. But mostly I loved his crazy imagination: Spaceman Spiff, the dinosaurs, the fact that his stuffed tiger was 100% real. I was often gifted the compilations (Lazy Sunday has a note written in my sister’s childhood handwriting: “Merry Christmas, Laura!”) and after finishing each book, I’d always vow to be more like Calvin — fortunately for my parents, a vow I never acted on.

I knew the text would be a bit too advanced for Kara — but the pictures! The pictures would be great. So I pulled the book off the shelf and took it into the living room.

calvinandhobbes

She loved it. The full-page drawings grabbed her attention and held it firm. But flipping through the pages, I soon recalled something about Calvin and Hobbes — something I’d forgotten from my days of reading it on the regular. Do any of you remember how dark this strip can be? Monsters and aliens trying to kill Calvin, fanged dinosaurs eating helpless dinosaurs, weird demigods of the underworld destroying villages. I had forgotten all this until Kara stopped at nearly every drawing and said, “Is that a monster?”

Now. Kara is a very sweet little girl. A sweet, imaginative little girl who remembers freakin’ everything. Seriously, NOTHING slips past this kid. Both a blessing and a curse. I was worried that if I explained all these monsters to her, she’d go home and be convinced they were waiting for her, lurking under the bed.

“Well, here Calvin is pretending…” I asked her if she ever played pretend. “This monster is in Calvin’s imagination — he’s playing pretend.” Kara would nod; we turned the page.

After a while, I noticed a trend. “Where’s the next monster?” she’d say. “No, not this page. Where’s a monster?”

Suddenly I realized — Kara wasn’t afraid of the monsters. She was seeking them out. She wanted the monsters. She wanted the slightly dark, slightly scary, 100% awesome monsters.

So often we’re afraid to let kids see anything scary. But they know what’s up. They know there’s darkness in the world. And sometimes, that’s alright. We’re all drawn to the dark, to the macabre — otherwise Sherlock Holmes, The Walking Dead, and 50 shades of vampire wouldn’t be so popular. We don’t want fairy tales and star dust. No, strike that — we want the real fairy tales, where the Fae play tricks and steal your children and return to their dark world hidden just behind the veil. We want to go to the place on the map marked “Here Be Dragons” and peer into the abyss, returning home to tell the tale.

At the end of the day, we want the good guys to win — we want good to prevail. But the monsters are alright. They keep things interesting.

The Best Laid Plans

Ugh.

You know how I was ALL READY to start editing on February 1? I’d done my prep work, my research, I was excited and rarin’ to go? I woke up on Saturday morning, pulled the manuscript together, formatted it to download onto my Kindle so I could read the whole thing in one go. And then I headed off to get my hair cut, with a whole, wide-open evening laid out in front of me, set aside to read.

And then halfway through my hair cut, I got so dizzy and nauseous that I had to interrupt my stylist and tell her, Oh hey, I’m sorry, I know you’re cutting my hair but if I don’t lie down now I’m going to pass out.

Fun!

I managed to drag my ass home, climb into bed and proceed to shiver and sweat and be generally miserable for the next 12 hours. Well, let’s be honest — the next 12 hours were the worst, but it extended in to Sunday as well. And Monday! On Monday afternoon I told Byron, “I’m going to try to take a shower now… I feel like I’m starting to smell.”

“Yeah, you kind of are… what? I didn’t say anything until you mentioned it!”

Thanks, dear.

Tuesday thank goodness I was finally feeling well enough to head back to work. Which I did. And then Wednesday I woke up with pink eye.

PINK EYE.

I AM NOT AMUSED BY THE PRACTICAL JOKE, UNIVERSE.

(The really annoying thing about all this? I was pretty sick two weeks ago, too. And Byron was really sick last week. And now apparently it’s my turn again? I told a co-worker that our house must be infested with the plague, and he said, “Just burn it down.”)

So. Needless to stay I was back on the couch Wednesday, and my sorry ass is here at home today as well.

Maybe also needless to say? I haven’t started editing the book yet. Which makes me feel like a huge failure. I know, I know, I set an arbitrary deadline for myself — a deadline not based on any agent or publisher or job — but it was still my deadline. And I missed that deadline because I could barely lift my head off the couch, let alone read a book or sit at the computer.

I know that “real life” sometimes gets in the way of writing, but… I never let real life get in the way of writing. When I set myself a goal, I get it done. In fact, I specifically set personal deadlines so I do get the work done. I hold myself accountable. “Real life” to me is always just an excuse for not writing. And now here I am, kicking and screaming because life’s drug me down to its level.

So, I don’t know. Do I just re-set the goal? Tell myself that I’ll start revisions this Saturday, that it’s ok, shit happens? I mean, that’s what I HAVE to do at this point. But it still pisses me off. I failed myself, and that’s the worse offense.

Now excuse me while I return myself to the couch.

Song of the Week: Miss Piggy Edition

It hasn’t felt much like Christmas yet.

Which, yeah, I know. It’s TOMORROW.

It’s on a Wednesday, which doesn’t help. The Real Job has been nuts, which doesn’t help. I’ve been writing nonstop, which doesn’t help. Brain filled to every nook and cranny with words and characters and plot and swirl and omg when will the end come??

Ahem.

When you were a kid, there was always a slowdown before Christmas. A pause, a deep breath. The moment after the first sip of hot cocoa, when everything is warm and savory and right. Now, the days go by faster, and the world never really stops spinning.

Fortunately, though, there is one lady who can always get me in the Christmas spirit. Or should I say — one pig.

My BFF Mary and her family introduced me to John Denver and the Muppets. As kids, we walked around her house at Christmastime, singing this song in rounds — Mary, her mom and me. And now I’ll sing it with whoever will join in. With proper Muppet voices. Duh.

Tonight after I get off work, I’m going to crank this jam and try to rewire my brain. If only for the next 24 hours. After all, there’s only one time of year where I get an excuse to sing along with Miss Piggy.

In the meantime: