Take me to Tokyo

Sakura Blossom Ueno Park

The cherry blossoms are just coming out and everywhere I turn I start thinking about Tokyo.

The first time Zilla took me to Sri Lanka, which was-wow- already seven years ago, our flight connected through Narita, which is to Tokyo what Seatac is to Seattle. We were in Sri Lanka almost three weeks and in Tokyo for only three days, but it is Japan that I really remember.

Part of it, I’m sure, was the unexpected good luck of it all. Sri Lanka, in those days, was still at war and while we were there the airport was bombed. Zilla and I were newly together, and being home with him, meeting his parents, being white, wondering if what we had would work and if we were even physically safe was, well, a lot. But when we landed in Japan all of that was over. We were just two people again, with two days together.

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We took the train in to Tokyo and walked up the stairs to Ueno Park. Petals blew in the wind and fell on my face. Without even realizing it, without even considering it might happen, even thinking it was remotely possible, we’d come to Tokyo —and had two whole days—right in the middle of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

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The park was pink, petals lined the paths. People were out of their offices, celebrating. Men in suits and women in skirts–knees neatly folded—sat on blue tarps and drank sake. Their shoes lined the blue plastic. Petals fell in their black hair. Petals fell on their umbrellas.  The air smelled like fresh linen. Everyone was talking and taking photos. Food carts were parked everywhere.

Japanese Fans

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Tokyo Strawberry Lollipops

Japanese Woman

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Zilla spent the first grade in Kyoto—because his parents were on sabbatical there— and he still remembers how to pronounce some Japanese. Please and thank you, bathrooms, money, takoyaki, which the food carts sold, but mostly just the basics now, since it has been thirty years. But his pronunciation is perfect and he has the right body language, a sense of when to nod and bow. So I followed his lead, and we just carried on with a few words and lots of sake, covered in petals and eating fresh tofu soup, making new friends, as it grew dark.Photographing Cherry Blossoms

That night we stayed in a traditional Japanese ryokan—or guest house–on  folded mats. I bathed nude in the traditional baths with three old ladies—more on that, I promise—and we had a thirty course meal, one of which was a single perfect strawberry, that reminds me that perfect falls short as a word. A geisha—or at least that is what she looked like to me– in full kimono brought each dish, kneeled at our low table, backed away as if I were a queen, and then bowed. I hadn’t seen anything like it, except on Reading Rainbow! We still have the menu framed on our wall.

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Fortunes Tokyo Ueno Park

Ueno Park Tokyo Sakura Cherry Blossoms

I think about that trip sometimes, when life gets busy and time seems to stop. Graham Greene says in Travels with my Aunt that travel makes stretches time, makes it longer. Two days, and they held enough wonder for years. Just two days.

Where would you go?

Update 1: I finished my first Computer Science problem set. BAAM! As Emeril would say. The second one was harder: baam? (not a roar, but a meow)

Update 2: Several says ago I woke up to this email: “Your friend has send you an article from WebMD.” I opened it. “How to Get Pregnant Quick: Fertility, Ovulation and Conception.” The friend who sent it? Zilla’s mom! AHHHHHHH! At least I know she’s reading my blog.

Thirty and Coding

Code.org, learning to code

Damn, if some days I don’t feel like I’m still three years old—and of all days, today, the day I turn thirty.

Everyone always asks what you are going to do for your birthday—especially when it is a big one. Honestly, I’ve been so tired lately, I didn’t want to do anything at all.  Last week, during a meeting, my dear editor and friend suggested that I take a pregnancy test and a nap.

The advice was positive but the results were not.

There are things I expected to have by now, and I think a baby is one of them. Not that that means I am ready. Most of the time I feel like a child myself.

So I woke up this morning and talked to my family, and to the friends who know I messed up my real birthday—and have kept forgetting to correct it—on facebook. I thought about going out and buying some youthful make-up for the new purplish color under my eyes, but decided against it. Instead I carried my coffee cup to my office and sat down at my desk. I would celebrate my birthday by just enjoying a regular day of my real life.

One of the things I wanted to do today was to write to you all, here on the blog. So I went into wordpress and began pressing around. I’ve been feeling a little smug lately because I used to struggle so much when I tried to do anything but type on the computer. I’d sit down and then click around and get totally lost, exhaust all my curse words and then nearly black out with rage.  Everything computer just made me feel embarrassed, and old. In college I’d talked about taking computer science. I really should have but I was scared. My boyfriend at the time warned me against it. He said he thought it would be too hard.  I don’t know what’s worse: that that I believed him, or that he said it.

So I updated my blog page—which is hardly computer science, I know, because Zilla is a computer scientist– and then went over to check my email.  My friend Alice—also a computer scientist– had sent a link to code.org. I followed it. It’s all about the importance of teaching coding and computer science in schools and how useful it was in all careers and walks of life. And I thought: ah ha! That’s what I will do to celebrate being thirty. I will get over this hump. I will finally learn to code! Nothing fancy, just the basics. Then at least when (if?) I do get pregnant I won’t have to face a fetus with more computer literacy than I!

Well, I went back to my website with a new confidence and then totally, completely, mucked it up. I was going to map one domain to the other and then add a site redirect. I thought I had done everything right, but apparently not.  When I was done, I couldn’t even access my site at all. I could not figure out what I messed up. I clicked the same buttons three hundred times. Then I clicked them again. And then one or two or three hundred more times.

This was not how I planned to spend my birthday. I tried to breathe. I then wrote urgent supplications for help to wordpress. Then I picked up my phone and then put it down–determined not to call Zilla. I allowed myself two minutes to jump up and down and then curse and then sit on the floor and cry. Really cry. My little dog Zoe was so distressed she pulled one of my files out of the file cabinet and brought it to me to try and help. I took a deep breath, put the file in the file cabinet and checked my email. And there it was: The yearly two word birthday note from the boyfriend who said I probably shouldn’t try to code.

It is possible he didn’t even say that—that it’s just my fears I’m remembering.  It was a long time ago. He was and still is a pretty good guy.  But gosh, sometimes you just have to let the past go. Years pass, and things change, and we end up with an idea of ourselves that’s way out of date.

I typed in my domain name hoping for some cyper-magic. No: my blog was lost and everything was still all messed up. So I decided to do something else for a while. I went back to code.org and followed the links for learners. I did the first exercise: using code to draw a rectangle, a circle, a square. I did it—just like I used to with crayons.

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Update: I fixed my webpage after all. Though then I sent that funky blank post–sorry. For obvious reasons this post is appearing a few days after my birthday. AND: This morning I watched the first lecture of Intro to Computer Science which is free and available to all on MIT’s Open courseware.  I kinda got it. Plus, I liked the advice the professor gave to the class:“…do not feel inadequate when you are simply inexperienced.”

A Life Beyond our Control

Thatata in 1966 on top of Bible Rock 1

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!)

Pressing Concerns

I don’t usually take pictures of garbage piles, but that’s what this is. We’ll, not garbage exactly: compost.

In Washington this year we voted by mail. I dropped my ballot in the box two weeks ago. So yesterday, instead of going to the polls, I went to my friend Jim’s house to help with his “press” and to poke around the garden.

Over the last few weeks, as the grapes have come in, Jim has crushed and fermented Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sryah, Cab Franc and several others. Then he stores the mash—juice, skins, seeds and all— in his shed outside. He stirs it twice a day and lets it ferment for a couple of weeks. Our job was to scoop the mix into the barrel press and collect the young wine that came off. At first it flowed easily then we had to put on the press and crank. In a few weeks there will be a racking. And then a bottling, and then many parties to come.

The whole week I had been asking Z what we should do election night. I wanted to have a party. I had the feeling that we should be with people.  But nothing had come together, and I was feeling a little sad. Without going to the polls it almost felt as if nothing had happened.

When I got home from the press I turned on the TV and settled in to watch the results. Then Z called. Friends were in town and they wanted to get together.

“When?” I asked.

“Now,” he said,”I’m in the car outside. Come outside.”

So I grabbed my coat and we met them at the bar and the whole place roared and booed and cheered together. I must learn not to worry.  It turned out to be a very good night indeed.