Breath

The Breath between the Breath.

Today at noon I was stalled at my computer, the book proposal and the submissions going nowhere. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed by the news — the virus, inconceivable despair in Afghanistan, the state of emergency in hospitals AGAIN –and everything felt heartbreaking and confidence breaking. Writing prose seemed a waste of time, or rather time spent on the wrong things. By the middle of the morning, hump day was proving to be a very steep climb. I got up and went to the carwash.

While the car dripped I impulsively looked online for a time slot to access the Bloedel Reserve. I was on the trail ten minutes later, swinging my arms, skirting meandering visitors, craning my neck up at the trees, easing down past the rhododendron groves. Not until the moss woods and past the water lilies did I feel the air filling my chest. Back at the car forty-five minutes later, I peeled off socks, unlaced boots and headed back to my desk; drove bare foot back to Wren Cottage with the windows wide open.

One of my covid take-a-ways: there is really so. much. more. time. in the day than I allowed pre-quarantine; that there is breath between the breath if I relax; that the minutia, the small encounters, count more than I ever realized.

A little story about time and shifting perspective. I am privileged to have the freedom and the means to do this in a beautiful woodland, a roof over my head. How can I change helplessness?

I sat back down recalibrated — donated to an organization working amidst the crisis in Afghanistan, ordered more masks. Filed the essay away for a day. I brought up the news I dislike to listen to both sides of the story. This is what I could do.

Headed to anger and panic this morning, losing ground on making a difference, I took that space between and changed it up. I took that extra breath. I refocused.

And lo and behold, right under my feet, this was happening.

With you, friends.

Autumn Cyclamen, The Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

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Look up

Look up.

I am in the Pacific Northwest for a chunk of time and when in Seattle I take every opportunity to walk Phinney, the heart of my old nest, especially a few turns around Green Lake. My last few visits a man has been parked in the same place, a high knoll of grass above the path, his wheelchair heavy with mechanics, screens, tubes, his body completely still, alone. I silently applauded him, this was always my favorite side of the lake, a place where a heron often stands watching a fishing hole and beyond the trees the water teems with ducks, dogs on the loose, paddle boarders, kayaks. Olive loved to stand here, on the tippy edge of the wall, staring into the water. But recent conditions have changed this public space and and for the rest of those walks, I worried.

In the last eighteen months of covid and quarantine the foot, rollerblade, dog and bike traffic has increased on Green Lake to rush-hour conditions, all day long. Any open space between the road and the water are now thick with homeless encampments, generators humming, radios blasting. The trash cans overflow. The grassy areas that host open-air birthday parties, barbecues, frisbee competitions and hammocks at the same time shelter people sleeping under the trees. Gone are the quiet off-hour Olive dog walks of the past: humanity teems.

How does he get there over the bumpy ground so far from the walkways, can he feel the breeze so bundled up, should he be alone. Acutely aware I can walk away — of the rhythm of my feet, the roll of my hips, my feet below me — how safe is he?

But here is this small big story:

A few days ago I looked up to check on him:

I cried.

A young man jogging ahead of me whipped around and said “I know, it makes my heart thump.”

I stopped right there and tilted my head up to the sky; watched some crows swooping into the tree tops, an eagle catch air and lift, witnessed the gigantic expanse of blue air above me. I wanted, with all my body, to go lie down next to him and say thank you for making me look up.

But I did not; he had this. And he showed me how to make the best of what we have right now.

Look up, friends. I miss you all.

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Uncategorized

Dog Days of August

Last week sweat pooled on my cheeks while I was first and only waiting for a bakery to open in Seattle. August has been dry, the sun relentless in the Pacific Northwest. At 8:50 AM it was already too hot. I sipped the last of my coffee, wishing I had iced. My favorite neighborhood in Seattle holds not only this bakery, many divine coffee shops, the amazing Teacozy Yarn store but also the National Nordic Museum and best Farmer’s Market in town. With minutes to go until 9:00 I could already taste the first cut of their thick seedy rye loaf, piled high with heirloom tomato and smeared with mayo. Then, from behind the locked doors, I heard something shatter.

I peered closer to the picture window. No movement. Seconds later I saw a rack against the far wall tip over, heard metal rails fall. No human in sight. Should I knock and offer to help? Then something hit the wall and a bowl slid off the work table infront of me, flinging cornmeal across the cement floor. The sounds continued to escalate, metal ringing against metal. Not a human word said.

After a while I realized that someone inside was having a spectacular tantrum.

Funny that my very first response was a little bit of envy.

It has been a long pandemic. As the cacophony continued — five minutes past opening time, ten minutes past opening time — I felt complete solidarity with this person, yet to be seen. “Take your time!” I wanted to shout through the locked door, keeping my head down. Had someone not shown up to help? Did a batch of bread burn? Was it payday and the check late? But really, does any one of us need an excuse to throw things in August, 2021, still masked and another variant bearing down?

The way of the world has been one step forward, one step back, limping if you have a new hip, for seventeen months of uncertainty, fear and illness. The urge to throw things is completely understandable.

At 9:15 a woman came to the door, latched it open, set up an iPad on a small table, wiped her hands on her white apron, held up a finger and said sweetly, “be just a sec, takes the machine a minute to warm up.” All around her lay bowls, spoons, shards of baked rolls, overturned trays. She stood on a small hillock of flour.

I was so happy there were no apologies. I smiled, paid for my bread, and left.

I felt better, too.

Artichoke, gone to flower.

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Perfectionism

Aftershocks.

I am elbow deep in dirt this May, coaxing some life into my gardens that have been neglected for a few years, five to be exact, due to some work on my body. Everything that I used to do at the speed of lightning — hauling bags of dirt and compost, spreading with the hoe, digging, dividing, edging, deciding — is taking me three times as long since I last dedicated myself to these spaces. I go to bed weighing the options. Once upon a time I would double my efforts but now..? I call this my wave of “covid aftershock.”

Are there things you have let go? Decided some things that obsessed you are not what you want to spend your wild and precious life doing anymore?

I let this float into the universe and think about planters. I think about quiet and good conversations and chairs at the beach for sunset cocktails. I like more space around me now. The feeling of the air on my face is sublime since masks are not mandatory on my walks, so I head out the door for hours and smell every blossom in my path. I also give up and sit still when things ache, not push through. Where has that fast-paced perfectionist gone?

What is your covid aftershock, your wave of realization?

I take more selfies, proving to myself I am still here. This is what matters; not so much the weeds.

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Uncategorized

Pot Roast

This week a trusted pod texted an impromptu invitation for a pot roast dinner. I didn’t have to think too hard: comfort food, friends, we brought the salad. Masks on to the front door, masks off inside as we are all vaccinated, we did a lot of laughing then tucked into the tender meat, buttery potatoes, roasted carrots and let memories flow of family meals, the savory smell of our childhood homes on Sunday, why don’t we eat pot roast more often? The night tasted good and felt good.

A Tuesday night which was not, as might have been in the past, a huge, planned dinner party, or boozy, or late. The salad bowl sat on the table. My cousin was still in her hiking gear. The puppy was asleep on her bed next to our feet. We were stripped of the past so-called necessities and formalities, a new definition of certainly my needs: a few friends, as you are, sustained.

Halfway through the meal our host paused his knife and fork mid-air and closed his eyes. Then looked at us and said:

“It feels so good to have friends.”

We all paused: he had perfectly captured this moment of such extraordinary value; this moment we had all stayed home for and worried for and stayed healthy for through the terrorizing pandemic months. It was so sweet and heartfelt and true and important.

For me, this crawl out of isolation presents a critical opportunity: what comes next and what do I care about? I lie awake, recalibrating what I really have to do and want to do. Can I bundle these errands? Isn’t there plenty of food between the fridge and the cupboards to create a good dinner for a few days? I relearned time during covid; I made art I never thought I had time for, I wrote art I never took the time to explore. On the nights when covid anxiety creeps around me I try to breathe and tell myself to remember I thrived, in some ways, when I slowed down my world.

I am still managing the sense of danger. A crowded room makes me short of breath. Hiking the trails on Bainbridge Island without a mask makes me feel — well — naked. My face stings, uncovered, in the breeze.

I am collecting a constellation of those moments in this new, emerging world: learning bird song, standing still for the owl hunting next to me on the trail, acknowledging myself. Closing my eyes and listening.

That night the dishes were cleared before the sun set and we went home to good books, clean cozy pajamas, windows wide open. Well fed in body and soul.

It is so good to have friends.

Masks off. Travel on. Groups can gather. It is coming, the new post-pandemic world.

What does yours look like?

Just about everything is going on here and I am ok with that.

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Compassion, Trans Youth, Voice

Don’t lose the plot line.

How is your stress level? I am all over the place.

Who would have thought: a cousin just celebrated his second covid birthday. Today on NPR the warnings for young adults about variants are very serious. I bought new masks and filters yesterday; a mask wardrobe emerges. The cherry trees are in full bloom, but we are banned from the famous gardens: these same gardens were packed with people last weekend. So far this week I have gotten together, in person, with two friends I have not seen in fourteen months; I was seriously worried whether or not I could both hold a worthy conversation and a glass of wine. I am getting lax about hand washing. My new PT is as young as my youngest. I am still awake at all hours of the night, fretting. I am fully vaccinated. Something terrible is happening to trans youth. While it is tempting to pull the covers over my head, I cannot.

I cannot lose the plot line: every day when I think that maybe it is time to relax, the reality of the obstacles still in place daunts me — but I MADE IT THIS FAR and will be damned if I slip now. Hear me.

News continues to contradict itself; effectiveness, reliability, availability. I cannot take my eye off the goal: all of us healthy, together, hugging. All of us who’s sanity has been tested as far as we will ever be, soon sitting close together, sharing empathy and stories. Check in with the strong people you know, not just the ones that confess the dark spaces. They will be suffering too, just really, really good at being strong. Listen to their voices.

For comic relief: my cousin and I agreed to order some linen dress off an Instagram ad last November — really — and four dresses for fifty dollars arrived months later off a container ship (maybe the infamous one), sized to fit twelve-year-olds. We have not stopped laughing. If that isn’t a symbol of covid desperation. That, and a cupboard full of pasta.

Go ahead and use your outside voice: about what you love, what you miss, what you are angry with: today I raise my voice in disbelief at the sweeping laws being proposed to prohibit trans youth from seeking the care and support they need to be human beings. Haven’t we learned anything from this pandemic? We are all vulnerable animals of flesh and blood, no one better or less vulnerable to the virus than the other. That we come in all shades and sizes and bodies, not one better or more worthy than the other. We are all worthy.

That discrimination in any form kills; from neglect, from brutality, from privilege, from fear.

Eye on the end game, people. To come out alive and well, in all our individual beauty.

I miss you all.

A.

Yes, I took the photo in a traffic jam.

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friends, Sleepless

Words.

New to me, in the last twelve months; I wake up at all hours of the night, read randomly, worry about the health of my friends and family, walk around, do a down dog, look at the moon and night sky, read some more. I gave in yesterday and made tea at 3:45am with a couple of Digestive biscuits. There are millions of words are out there to distract me, spinning in the pandemic stratosphere; blogs, essays, op-eds, chapters; emails, texts, tweets; letters, Facebook, Instagram. We all have our own late-night covid rabbit holes. I, for one, am on social media way too much. But then, how else would I have seen the unexpected, random, late-night messages sent from people I knew forty-plus years ago?

“Thought of you today when I was going through old photos. Tell me about your life.”

“Where are you?”

“I regret we did not stay in touch.”

I am impressed — this takes courage, to send out a touch across time and space. Extra courage to not come off as a creep. Who hasn’t been thinking about life, the past, friends we miss, maybe have not seen in forever? Pre-pandemic I might have ignored or blocked a name that I barely remembered. Now, in lockdown, the acute sensory/tactile/visual deprivation has made this moment a wrinkle in time. I write back. I stare at my screen and think Hey there, I am thirty, forty, fifty years older and you remember me? Wow.

This is a covid-driven crash course in memory and communication. I have no reference to their spouses, children, parents, grey hair. Look, I say aloud to my laptop in surprise, what a brilliant human this guy has become! Hey, an inbox message reads the next day, I read all your blogs! One nemesis from grade school and I shared recipes across continents. One once-unapproachable shared his writing and we bantered editing and politics. One kindly reminded me what I laughed like in ninth grade. Oh help, I wore WHAT?

And then, the ultimate late-night exercise: can you summarize your life in a text? The Haiku of my life took some thought:

Mom, bicoastal, writer, knitter, consumes too much espresso, cancer happened, no longer blonde, wants puppy.

And even better, I don’t have to worry about what I look like when we meet up again; I am most often in my pajamas.

I have so many people to look forward to when we are all vaccinated. Though perhaps my new-old friends and I will not end up connecting-the-dots of our lives and calendars in person. Just maybe, the purpose was only to reach across the vastness of the dark, panicked universe to remind each other we are alive, and human, and good.

Thank you.

(Not in PJ’s)

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Anniversary, Thinking

What has become of me.

Chocolate pudding is the answer. In my former life it wouldn’t be. But it is today.

Here is what I am thinking about:

How are you are the most important three words I can say to you as we head into the one year anniversary of this pandemic. Don’t think this is obvious — if I ask this, right at the start, bang-out-of-the-gate, I am paying attention to you on the other end. I have been meeting this question with silence, the good kind of silence, the solidarity let’s-just-float-this-in-the-air kind of silence. We know. Been said. Now, what are you reading?

Digestive biscuits are comfort.

I have submitted a number of personal essays to thirty publications since December. I am still a long way off from the normal numbers — I should make that one hundred submissions to publications by the end of the year. For perhaps one acceptance. Know that about people who write.

I have inherited a dog and this has saved me. From her sweet good mornings to the long walks she takes me on. When I stroke her ears I feel my blood pressure fall and I am flooded with gratitude. She leaves soon. I will have to figure that out.

We heal. Hips heal. Bellies heal. Hearts heal. Fingers-stuck-in-the-running-blender heal. I am frankly so flipping tired of being on the healing journey. But I know the gig: do what I can. Make what I know. Feel what I feel. And I know people are key to healing. So I am missing wholeness. Hugs ahead.

And: I am starting to think about the after. Even though I am on the last tier of the vaccination schedule and may miss the summer until I am twice-shot I am starting to lie awake and think, what will I care about? What do I NOT want to lose from this year? I have gained a new sense of time — perhaps from peeling away the ‘shoulds’ or the ‘have to’ or the schedules. Suddenly at 4:45AM I love that I am awake with fresh tea and a book — why not, all I have is time ahead. Somehow, while we are all still working like crazy and meeting deadlines and answering texts don’t you feel that our days have been peeled, the shell parts pulled off, the soft middles getting some air. What has become of me that I taste and smell and relish the small stuff and it is enough?

I do not live in yoga pants. Period. I dress in what I love. I wear bigger earrings as the week progresses. There will be bling tomorrow. There’s that.

To be safe I have to pick. Not who or what I love the most. Just what I need to take care of myself. Now that is not a novel idea, before or after. Remember that.

And lastly, pudding. I ate the remains of a glass ramekin full of home-made chocolate pudding with a cream floater for my snack this morning. It was pure comfort. Today that is the answer. I am ok with that.

February 18, 2021: I sat in an isolated corner of Tartine Bakery yesterday and marveled at the still life of my table top. A trashy novel, a sugary biscuit, a shot of adrenaline, and the bent mask.

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Uncategorized

FALAF’INGLALALALA

This morning I sawed off the head of a plastic honey bear, without a second thought, to get to the crystallized gunk stuck in his belly. The plumbers are ripping apart a living room wall to fix (read: saw, epoxy, hammer, Christmas tree swaying) a cracked pipe. My additional family pod, three adults and a reindeer-sized dog — quarantined and clear and ready to Christmas — are on the way, set to arrive in the middle of this. Bring it on, 2020, give it your best shot because I am DONE with you in a matter of days.

Note: Cone of silence since April due to hip collapse, surgery and quarantined, difficult recovery in Seattle. I don’t want to read whiny so why should you. But here I stand. There you stand. We did it.

I keep learning in my sixth decade: learning about politics, my body, my friendships, my soul, loss. I am more in love with the Pacific Northwest than ever before, not just for the King Fisher I spotted minutes into my first walk post-surgery, or the Bewick’s Wrens nesting over my head while I recuperated under the blooming white antique roses. Add the support of friends, extended family and cousins, the food, simple meals and beautiful cakes. It was an exercise is breathing and gratitude. It was a challenge in healing. It was a time to remember.

I am assembling ingredients for a fancy Empress Gin + cranberry punch for Christmas Eve, complete with my mother’s Steuben punch bowl our first Scottish Terrier slept in decades ago, to be served in cut glass cups, because, friends, why not. We will dress fancy and toast the gatherings to come and the sweet, sweet hard-earned chance to be together as family for a little while, safe and secure in our little pod.

I can’t wait to hug you. Smack my lips on your cheeks, squeeze the air from your body with my arms, sit close together and delight in you. Let the memory of elbow bumps fade. I have missed you. I might even skip across the room when I see you: bionic is the word of the year.

Merry and Fa La F’ing La. We are almost there.

Take that, 2020. #poorbear

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Coping, Knitting, New Vocabulary, Spring, Stay Mighty, writing

Hello. Are you ok?

Hello my readers. Are you out there? Are you ok? I would like to share a few virtual hugs. In 350 words — no, it has gone to 424. Bear with me.

Some new conditions of the human race have floated to the surface of this strange and difficult time — and I don’t just mean words and conditions such as “quarantine.”

“Thank you for zooming in today,” my online yoga  class began this morning. “One foot in front of another, one word in front of another,” came from my virtual writing group. “Don’t bother to brush your hair,” I began when inviting friends to knit together on our computers. “Elbow bump!” back when we could be that close. I have a “yarn fairy” now, not a store, at Marblehead Knits. I don’t believe most postings, or stats, or links. I stick to one time a day on the NYT site for a morning update. One. One. One. I recognize anxiety a mile away now.

“Are you wearing masks?” is a question that makes me stop, drop and roll in my stomach. But I have bandanas and hair elastics for when that has to happen. It should happen.

This will end. We will be altered from this global catastrophe — our politics, our friends, our handshakes, our finances to name a few. This cannot be helped. I stay in quarantine aware that suddenly I am “elderly” and qualify for early shopping hours and that there ARE early shopping hours for over-60. Horrified, pissed off and acutely aware that going grey was a choice and trendy and now a sticker on my forehead.

But there are flip-sides about discovering so many hours in the day I had treated casually back in January. Spring — birdsongs, buds, tiny narcissi, my father’s hyacinth greet me and I linger to see them daily. Friends have reached out, ones I have not seen for forty years. I have a knitting blog alexandradaneknits to make that circle wider, the resources more accessible. I have a daughter and a dog moved in, her art studio set up in the sunny kitchen. Her daily art posting keeps us all thinking of new ideas. I set up a yoga space for online classes. I pulled out, washed and placed by my espresso machine all the grandmothers’ teacups and post my daily try at being a barista. Who would have thought that machine, last holiday’s indulgence order, would become essential?

Send me your resources. I want to throw them into the stratosphere and open the world when it has become more closed, despite. Thanks for reading. You are awesome.

Be well. Stay mighty. Stay home.

Alexandra Dane

lotus cup

 

 

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