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.

Hi

Hi.

I’m not really sure what to say but I do know that I want to write to you today.

One of the writing groups I am part of believes that you should write without stopping, or editing, or even thinking, every day. Even when the words don’t come, even if you think you don’t have anything to say, you write. Write: the words aren’t coming or I don’t have anything to say, but write it. By writing it, you have begun. You have shown you have something to say.

We call this writing practice. Most days, I have too many words, but some days I don’t have any. So, like pushups, I am practicing, and I am getting stronger.

The other day Zoe, my puppy, stood at the bottom of the stairs. She looked perplexed. My mother-in-law was sitting on the couch. I was heading to the garage. My husband was in the bedroom. She looked back and forth between us and whined.  She wanted to be with all of us, but she had to choose.

I know how she feels. The people I love are spread out too. There is no one place I can go and be with them all. The closer I get to one, the further I am from another.

Most of the time I feel lucky.  Even if I can’t be with all of them at the same time, I have people in my life who I love loving. And who love me. I know that. But sometimes too many people feel too far away, and I begin to feel lonely. And for some reason, feeling lonely makes me feel ashamed.

I think: All I need to do is call, or text, or write.  It sounds so easy, but it feels hard.  So today I am practicing. I still don’t know what to say, but that’s okay.  Maybe for today hi is enough.

Making God Laugh

My dad used to have a set of Post-It notes on his desk that said “If you want to make God laugh make plans.”

One thing I planned to do was write on this blog more often; every Thursday morning at nine according to my calendar. Several friends, good friends, blog-reading friends, have asked me, in that semi-hushed voice, are you still blogging? I think, of course, I’m going to post Thursday, at nine. And then I sigh to myself and wonder what it is that I’ve been doing. Then a little voice answers: living life, and making god laugh.

It’s been almost a year since Z and I headed to Sri Lanka and then Istanbul, which I’ve written about here, and then Spain and Portugal, which I haven’t even gotten to yet. I’ll tell you all about it soon (next Thursday, at nine?), when the winter sets in and my desk feels warm, but right now, the sun is out in Seattle (!), I’m furiously editing my book, foolishly starting another one, and playing with our new puppy.

She is four months old and a snuggly ball of brown fuzz. I planned to walk her in the morning—before nine– and in the evening and work with her at my feet in between. But God laughs and we have all sorts of fun instead.

A few days ago we were walking in the park. Something about the air reminded me of travel, or changing seasons, of picking up and taking off: of freedom. For a moment I looked at my little dog and felt sad. Now that we have a dog we won’t be traveling the way we did. Then she looked up from the twig she’d just found. It was one of the very first cold mornings and when she breathed out her breath hung in the air.  Just for a moment. And then it was gone, a small sign that the morning was cold and she was warm and we were both in the park, alive, together.

I tried to explain to her how great this was.  But you know how dogs are. She just wiggled and looked at me like she understood every word, which is nice for a writer sometimes. And then a breeze blew and her brown fur ruffled and I was glad that I was close to home, without any plans to go anywhere soon.

And where you are.

Z took my hand. We dipped into the side streets and away from the crowds.  That morning we’d had an argument.  A misunderstanding.

Sometimes traveling is more of a journey into my own unknown places than it is into the world; a visit through the structures that stand, old and unused, beautiful or crumbling, in my mind.

A car honked. Z looked up. “We cross here.”

I didn’t argue. I felt cold. I wanted to stop and sit and drink tea with cubes of sugar. I did not want to tour, but to live.

I once asked Z where home was.

“Seattle,” he said, “And where you are.”

But when I am in a place, I feel that I could stay.  Like I almost live there.  He is the immigrant, but he knows where home is. He didn’t have to think a second.

Z ordered us each a short strong cup of coffee. The waiter opened a wooden desk drawer. It was full of cubes of sugar. He placed one each on the saucers next to our little cups.

When I finished Z took my cup and turned it upside down.  “Now we read your fortune.”

The tip of my nose was cold. Coffee seeped out from the rim of the cup.

Z removed it and peered in. The grounds spread over the saucer. “Humm,” Z shrugged. The corners of his eyes crinkled. “Your future looks muddy. How about lunch?”

We walked hand in hand along rows of antique shops, peering in like strangers. In the window of one I saw a row of tiny cameos, no bigger than my pinky nail.

I did not want to see any more monuments. “We could look for Turkish Delight,” Z said.   “It is supposed to be the best in the city.  Maybe the world.”

We crossed the bridge again and ducked into the streets behind it.  The shops were narrow and slouching, like they had had a long day, and were tired.

I looked up. “The book says it is here. Just around the corner.”

A spot of Technicolor in a black and white film. Pastels and sugar and spun candy. Rose, hazelnut, pistachio, orange. The soft little cubes piled into a small mountain and then into my bag.  The bell rang and another couple came in. The bell rang, and Z and I went out.

We crossed the bridge. Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire, arguments. They all come and go. My teeth ached from the sugar.

I tapped Z on the arm. “Look at the fishermen. They are still fishing.”

He kissed my forehead. “Shall we go home?” The trace of his lips felt cool in the evening air.

To the hotel, to the States, to Seattle to each other?

“Not yet.” I opened the guide book. “I want to try the lahmacun. It is supposed to be the Turkish answer to pizza…”