A Life Beyond our Control

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I’ve been working on my book now for just over two years, and I realize now and then that most of my people have no idea what I’ve been up to. I write and write and write and don’t say a word.

The funny thing is I’d love to talk about my book, if only I knew where to start. Marketing people say I should start with an elevator pitch—the idea of it makes me cringe—to hook you with my story in the mere fifteen seconds that we are presumably trapped together in a moving metal box. But I don’t want to hook anybody and my story takes more than fifteen seconds to tell. That is why I have been sitting at my desk for two years.

I began writing the week after Zilla’s dad passed away. His parents live in Sri Lanka—we live in Seattle—and at the time his father got seriously ill—two years before that– Sri Lanka was in the last throes of civil war.  All-in-all we made seven around the world trips to Sri Lanka, most of them without a return ticket or a suitcase after emergency midnight calls. Instead of discussing what to eat for dinner we were arguing about what constitutes care and how much money we were willing—or able—to pay.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing a travelogue about all the places a tourist never goes, or a story about how families change, or what it is like to lose a parent. But I’ve realized recently, as revisions have come together, that what I am really writing is a love story, a story about marriage. Loving one another is as rewarding as it is hard.  We all have to learn this lesson. The truth is you cannot always make a person change.

Why add another book to the world’s great library? I don’t know. I don’t mean that in the spirit of defeat, but of possibility. I don’t know what effect my book will have, and that, to me is the whole point of creating: to take our experiences and give them a life beyond our control.

Zilla is going to read the manuscript soon, which will be interesting. Both he and his mother have been so generous to let me write about them and what I now consider our family, at such a difficult time.  Especially generous because the honest me is often frustrated, more than a little impatient, and sometimes mean. We’ll see if they still love me after they read it. That was a joke. Maybe the whole point of my story is that I now know they will.

Dirty and Sweet

Dirty Valentines

Well, I’m blushing. (Supposedly my parents read this.)  I’m not sure I even know what half of these phrases mean. Still, I think these little cookies are brave: for me love is dirty, and sweet, and surprising. Definitely embarrassing, cute, inappropriate, painful, joyful, and sad.

Zilla and I went out for Valentine’s Day early, on the 12th. For me, the 12th is now a very romantic day: it was a Tuesday, a pianist was playing old jazzy tunes, and the restaurant was relaxing, and slow. Plus, our dinner was a surprise. I was at my desk and I’d already eaten a yogurt because I expected Zilla to work late. But what do you know, a date!

We went to Dinette. The last time we ate at Dinette was on Valentine’s Day, before we’d had our, ahumm, first time.  The fact that we haven’t been back in the last six years is really only a testament to how quickly time flies. We’ve always meant to return. Dinette’d food is very nice. Out date worked out quite well. I’m not being rhetorical, but I really don’t believe it has been six years.

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You know that sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (well actually, it was by Elizabeth Barrett, addressed to Browning) that  begins “How do I love you*? Let me count the ways”?  “I love you with the passion put to use in old griefs,” Elizabeth says, “…and with the breath and smiles and tears of all my live!”

I found these photo-booth pictures of us the other day. I think they tell you worlds about who we are–and who we are to each other. I, by nature, am serious. I like to look like I have it all together and am doing well, especially when I’m not. Zilla, on the other hand, is a constant reminder that in the face of seriousness often the best you can do is smile.

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For me, love is a funny thing: the more I love a person, the more that love can make me sad. It dosen’t really seem like it should work that way, but for me love and sadness do go hand-in-hand. Sometimes that sadness looks like a regular tired week-night fight. Other times it is something bigger: the almost crushing fear of loss that lives low down in my belly. There are so many people I love in so many ways–my family, my friends, people who are in my life now and people who by death or distance or even choice, are gone. When I think about all these many, and how I love them, I feel happy. But I miss them. Or sometimes there is regret or frustration or pain tugging at that place in my belly, and I feel sad.

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A very good friend of mine always reminds me–when I start in like this–not to live in the future or mourn the past. A relationship, a love, a hope, whatever it is, she says, might be over, but no one can take your experiences from you.  Love can end, but even then it is never really lost.

There are people I believe love well–like Zilla, most of the time–who I know feel my love, and people who maybe don’t, who I am always struggling to love better. I keep learning. I think that is the main part, to keep learning to love better, to love without sadness, to remember not to be so serious, and to smile.

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*By the way, Elizabeth used thee, but I just can’t, so I replaced it with you.

And speaking of smiling: I love watching men walk around awkwardly with flowers–like they are holding somebody else’s baby–on Valentine’s Day. I used to work across the street from a flower shop–Valentine’s Day then was so fun!

You are loved

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Today–after we found this great sign in the park– my very cute little dog taught herself a new trick. We were in the park for her morning walk and she dropped her ball. We happened to be on a hill so the ball rolled down. Zoe looked at the ball, cocked her head, then leapt into the air and chased it. I’ll admit this is not such a new trick. But wait: She got the ball, brought it to the top of the hill again, and then chased it. For minutes she threw her own ball and ran after it. I have video.  I think I owe filmakers more credit because even with something so clever and cute it is amazing how long minutes really are.

I just finished Natasha, by David Bezmozgis. I thought it a simple hard sweet book of stories about a family of Russian Jews who immigrate to Toronto, told by their young son Mark, as he grows up. In the first story Mark is 7, maybe 8. He falls in love with another families little dog and takes her for walks. He lets the dog off her lease. I worried about Zoe for a week.

In the last story, Mark is closer to 18. He is helping his grandfather earn a spot in a building of widows and widowers–Holocaust survivors–by attending the building’s small synagogue.  The rabbi has the landlord’s ear, and he has had a hard time gathering enough men for a minyan. Mark’s attendance helps his grandfather’s prospects.SavedPicture-201327151712.jpg

Anyway, it is in this last story that I found my favorite line. It belongs to the happy old Jew– whom the build shuns–because they suspect him of being gay. He has just lost his roommate or partner or lover or friend–with whom he lived–and on this occasion the many who want the apartment they shared suggest he should be told to go. The apartment was not in his name, they say, they disserve the apartment more, he should be out. But this old man is not worried, not bothered at all. Because, “For him, the world held neither mission nor meaning, only the possibility of joy.”

This afternoon Zoe dug her ball out of the corner of the couch and looked at me longingly. I kept typing. I had a word count to reach. She tried a bark. Then she took her ball to the top of the stairs, and just like she had on the hill at the park, she threw the ball down the stairs herself.

Coffee, Scones, Pastries, Live Girls

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I am in Seattle, it is the second week of February, and the sun is shining. It wasn’t shining yesterday, but it was the day before that. And several days last week. Believe me, I’m not lying.

Still it is that time of year when people are beginning to talk about warm places. Yesterday, we imagined Mexico, Jamaica, Hawaii, Spain. Name a place, think of the beach, take a minute to imagine the smell of sunscreen.

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I am realizing I like Seattle even when the sun isn’t shining. Our sunless days are long but I appreciate the time. I sit at my desk and feel grateful to be able to do the things I’ve been wanting to do. And even when the sun isn’t out, Seattle is still very pretty. There is moss. Yesterday, I saw the first pink cherry blossom. And our sound, our lakes, are an amazing slate blue.

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We had some wonderful fog a few weeks ago. I work up in the night and all I could see from my window were red and green traffic lights and yellow street lights. A few of the street lights were blue, I imagine, from the new energy efficient blubs. Everything was white but these cones of color.

The park, a few hours later, was suddenly small, and secure. I thought of the expression I sometimes use, of being in a fog and how wrong it is. The fog does obscure things, but it also makes the world close to us so much clearer.

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Yesterday, we were out in the mountains because the forecast had called for sun. But it never came. When we got back to the city we stopped for a coffee. I thought: I like Seattle! I even like the grey.

Where else could you find a coffee happy hour, an antique cash register, and –for only five dollars–Coffee, Scones, Pastries, and Live Girls?

(P.S. This time, as you can see behind the register, it was a live man!)