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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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)

Standard
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.

Standard
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

Standard
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

 

 

Standard
Grief, Rosselini’s Bakery, Women

Hearts of All Sizes

This morning I realized my favorite bakery was full of women. Women quietly ordering and eating amazing treats — hot chai with whip, caramel lattes, croissant, strawberry jam linzertortes. I watched a young girl sitting alone, her sole concentration on a cerise mousse confection with a candied violet on top, licking each bite off the back of her fork. Another in her work suit was carefully choosing colorful macaroons. A dozen plates were covered in quivering quiche, tall cannele, brioche. There was not a man in sight.

I felt this surge of solidarity. A day when hearts are the theme can be hard — don’t hearts come in all sizes and shapes? — and in this buttery room it was a good guess that some were small or full or broken or mending or lost — and a Hallmark holiday does not fix this.

When a hot chocolate with whip was called out, no one stood. But a small pair of yellow boots caught my eye.

”I bet this is yours” I walked it over. She looked up at me, then at my yellow purse. “I like yellow” she answered, her spoon ready to plunge into the cup. “Well,” I answered, “we have to bring the sun to us when it is hiding.”

I did a heart check: mine is beating but broken, alive but grieving. I am a tattered heart; 2020 started rough. I lost a best friend, a woman who many called best friend — an amazing mother, a wife so loved. On January 6 a hole blasted through my heart and I know many other hearts. Valentine’s Day is the first of many many significant dates that I will want to call her and remind her how much I love her. But cannot.

I order a cortado and chocolate croissant and sit with my little piece of sunshine dripping hot chocolate all over her boots and thank the earth for holding me a little longer and giving me this moment.

To all the women at Rosselini’s today, bravo: today we make some sunshine for ourselves. One day at a time.
Missing you, Lou.

”We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

— Tennessee Williams

 

 

 

 

Standard
Christmas, Knitting, Read

OOF

 

This has been the year of YES.

YES to  writing short essays and submitting (thirty submissions, to date 25 nice rejections). YES to knitting twenty Nordic baby hats at short notice. YES to standing for hours in the post office to pass on my Mother’s art books to family that would love them forever. YES to cortisone for a failing joint. YES to tripling Granddad’s eggnog recipe and asking over a crowd to sip from Grandmother’s punch cups.

And the weekend after Thanksgiving?

YES to the open house of @adaneknits with @edg_originals, the first annual mother-daughter open house which resulted in a ripping success: I learned how to use a square, to start. And inadvertently this hosted a pop-up standing-room only holiday party that rocketed me into the holiday spirit.

But all that YES has made me go OOF.

It’s coming on Christmas and I am longing for a Lanz nightgown, Bourbon-spiked hot cocoa and taking over the couch. In slippers. @sammybgood calls this Restmas.

But Restmas requires a few NO’s: NO to some invitations so I can wrap and have a quiet dinner with family. NO to every other piece of cake. NO to arranging and rearranging Christmas decorations when a few — with plenty of fairy lights and berries from the garden — is just perfect. NO to eating meals standing at the counter to get to the next item on my to-do list.

Instead of waking up and already feeling completely OOF I am trying to stop before I even get started overachieving; read a few chapters before I even swing out of bed, sit and write a little at teatime, knit a little at the end of the day, sip some of that cocoa. Spend some time with @sweet_little_birdie.

Can you do it? Can I do it?

Trying.

 

 

 

Standard
Books, Boxing, Changes, Family

Un-boxing. Re-boxing.

My mother bequeathed her art book collection to my stepfather in the fall of 1986. A few hundred books that spanned from her art school days to her death — large and small plated books on Renoir and Picasso, Warhol and Rothko, American quilts and Inuit drawings  —  all boxed, moved and shelved at least six times in three states since then. When he became ill and I received a call offering them to me last month, I had to weigh and measure more than just the books before deciding whether I wanted to retrieve them.

I have spent that same period of time accumulating — and sloughing off — twice that amount of books. Now at an age when I am lightening my load both for myself and my children, I had to consider the quantity of books, the drive to central Oregon, the sorting through, the decision making, the re-boxing, then the mailing off to family and extended family. I considered letting them all go — sight unseen —  to the library book sale near his home.

After all, I had to let them go once, when the will was read, when I slipped a few favorites into the moving van and drove away from her house for the last time. I had reconciled thirty-five years ago that this part of her had been given to him. I considered that holding this part of her might be too hard now.

I called my stepbrother. He had laid eyes on them more recently than me. “Is this worth it — what would you do?” I queried. It only took one sentence. “Your mom stuck stuff in her books.” And with that I knew their value to me. Was anything remaining between the pages after all these years? How would I ever know if I didn’t look.

We left Seattle before dawn on a heroic twenty-four hour turn-around road trip, thanks to a strong and willing cousin. Loaded the twelve boxes six hours later, fed and watered ourselves in Portland and returned to Seattle the next day. I poured myself a glass, then slowly opened the first box top and folded back the cardboard.

There they were, all those old friends that had sat on the tables of my childhood. One by one I unpacked and stacked the books around me. At times I didn’t breathe or found myself gasping a little. In the middle of some books I laughed. For the most part I was deep in my head, remembering, the bitter and the sweet rolling through me.

My mother drifted through the room — there she was in her sixties prairie skirt, showing me a photo, daring me to understand abstraction, color, the blurred line between fact and fiction. My mother as the young, stunning, mind-snapping, creative difficult brilliant artist, attending gallery openings, dazzling and being dazzled, exploring line and color and the pulse of the art world. Seated on the living room floor with her artist friends — sculptors and painters and writers — drinking wine and changing the eyes of the world with their fiberglass and canvas, oil paint and wood.

And the scraps of paper did keep falling out from between the pages; poetry, lines scored, erased, rewritten. Letters from family and friends, the ones she obviously wanted to keep and reread, worn thin at the folds. Pencil sketches that I knew later turned into paintings and sculpture. Postcards and notes from her favorite people. And endless lines of her handwriting tilting down the margins of books and catalogs, her script as familiar to me as her laugh. Healing, difficult and amazing to see after all this time.

I was pretty ruthless with my sorting, that’s just the reality. But dozens of friends and family will be getting a little something in the mail — or a lot of something — in the next month. And I will have fulfilled one of her last wishes, demanded of me before she died;

“Please don’t put my things in boxes. Send them into the world.”

Big love to the people that brought these books back into my hands and helped me do just that. I am breathing.

ChickenAHC

“Chicken nesting in garden.” Sketch in pencil on notepaper.

Alexandra Hammer Clark, @1982.

 

 

Standard