I Will Do My Best to be Who She Thinks I Am

She was sitting on a huge concrete block in the wide gravel no-man’s-land that constitutes a parking lot for shipyard employees, as well as a micro-neighborhood of people who live in old RV’s. I was thinking about where I would shelter if The Big One hit right then. There was a reasonable amount of open space, free from hazards like utility poles and power lines; but the soil in the area, as I’d just learned from a color-coded map, is highly susceptible to liquefication, and I was beneath a slope that would surely collapse into a tree-and-building-laden landslide in the event of magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Bad news.

(I’ve been anxiously fixating on the danger our region faces from a massive earthquake since I read this New Yorker article yesterday. As much as I like to think that I have a deep acceptance of impermanence and the inevitability of death, the thought of being in immediate peril from a natural disaster is horrifying. Strangely, even before reading about the Cascadia subduction zone, I’d been experiencing a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of those who, like me, exist in the complacent ease of relative peace and prosperity. The truth is, it could shatter at any moment. I’d been having vivid fantasies of what it would be like to be involved in a large-scale catastrophe—like the mega-quake we’ve been promised.)

She was sucking on a vaporizer, and Ayla bounded up to greet her.

“You’re such a nice person. Wow. You’re gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous, wow.” She traced the contours of an imaginary pregnant belly.

“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re very sweet.”

“No, I’m not sweet! It’s true! You’re gorgeous. I am so happy for you. You’re going to be amazing.”

I smiled and thanked her, a little bemused, but flattered. As I walked away, she exclaimed,

“Yes. Yes, thank God!” I wondered what she meant, and surmised that she was glad someone as great as she clearly assumed I was was having a child.

When I was about 100 yards distant, she called out, “What’s your name?”

I yelled a reply, but she couldn’t hear, and started running towards me on sock feet. Ayla turned around and raced towards her, and I followed.

I repeated my name, and she launched into an impromptu paean to my beauty, kind-heartedness, loving nature, and overall greatness.

“Your energy is so beautiful! Look at the sunset. Look at it! That’s the energy I see inside you. You have so much love in your heart. You’re going to have a beautiful baby son. Can I give you a big hug? Or just a little hug?”

I assented. She smelled strongly of booze and there was a dampness of sweat between her shoulder blades. A small red bruise showed on her slender arm, and she had a Chinese character that may have been a tattoo but looked like a pen drawing in the center of her chest.

As I walked away, she began to weep.

“You’re going to be a great mother! I’m SO glad I met you. Namaste. What’s your sign?”

“Aries,” I said.

“I’m a Capricorn,” she said, and bowed, forearms drawn together in front of her face. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much!” She sobbed.

Needless to say, it was an affecting encounter. One could as easily dismiss her words as the illogical, and entirely unfounded, ramblings of a drunk. After all, I’m in the habit of dismissing (okay, attempting to dismiss) the nastiness directed my way by strangers who know nothing of me: the guy whose road rage prompted him to label me a “dumbass,” for instance. The screwed up thing is that his entirely unreasonable assessment precipitated a full-fledged emotional melt-down: Whereas the casual cruelty of strangers confirms what I suspect about myself (that I am bad, unworthy, stupid, etc.), the (often far more intense) avowals of my goodness that random people occasionally heap upon me make less of an impact. I don’t really believe them.

“She doesn’t know me,” I thought. “Where is she getting all of this?” Also: “She’s drunk.”

I’ve been feeling great guilt about bringing a child into a world that seems more frightening and unstable by the day. I feel selfish and foolhardy; even though I know that I did my due diligence in trying to prevent my pregnancy, I sometimes question whether it was morally correct to continue it. I question my ability to parent, my fitness to steward a vulnerable life, and even my capacity for love, on a daily basis.

But this evening’s encounter was a ray of hope. The total belief of a complete stranger in my essential goodness, her fulsome praise of my very being, her jubilation at my fruitfulness, buoyed my belief in myself. It made me think that maybe I can be a good, even a great, parent. That perhaps my existence is not a net loss for the world, and that, rather than hastening its demise, I might actually be contributing to society by raising a wonderfully compassionate and effective human.

And it took my mind off the Earthquake.

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I’m Meeeeeeeeeelting

My apartment is an equatorial swamp.

Inside, I lose my sense of time, watching Netflix and reading fiction like I have the flu. Ayla sprawls in the corner, torpid and immobile; every once in a while I glance over to make sure she’s still breathing. The blue ice I press against my neck, the fan, the copious water I drink, bring negligible relief.

My lassitude is self-perpetuating, and I’m feeling like an invalid. But to return my library books, to go to the store for popsicles and watermelon, to walk Ayla, to leave the stifling box that is my home, is too great an effort.

So I slump awkwardly on the couch, neck twisted painfully, nauseous from thirst, though my belly is quivering with water.

At least it’s summer 😀

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Sunday Morning Danish in the Park

There’s something very fine about getting up early in the morning. But although I love to, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so. My nocturnal work schedule, and the desire to draw out my sleep by staying in bed for as long as possible, meant that, for quite a while now, I’ve been rising late.

This past Sunday, I was up at 7:00. Of course, 7am isn’t all that early for many people. But it’s the crack of dawn for me, and I was excited to revel in the solitary pleasures afforded by being (I was sure) one of the only people up before 9 on a Sunday.

Heading to Café Besalu (pastry Mecca, makers of Seattle’s best croissant) after dropping my partner off at work, I looked forward to buying a perfect pastry without waiting in line. At a little after 8am, there was already a line out the door. Still, it wasn’t snaking down the block, as Sunday Besalu lines tend to do.

besalu

After a modest wait of less than ten minutes, I held in my hand a glowing nectarine danish, its seductively twisted edge and glistening innards beckoning me to take a bite, even though I planned to save it until I got to the park. It was fragrant and flaky and gooey and still a little warm: ecstasy.

my flip-phone capture could not do this beautiful thing justice
                                                  my flip-phone capture could not do it justice.

On to Discovery park, I imagined that my favorite dog-walking zone would be pretty much people-free. As it turned out, though, lots and lots of people are up and about early on Sunday. Apparently, many of them go jogging in Discovery park.

Walking along the south bluff, it was a little disorienting to see so many people running, all in different directions, as if fleeing invisible foes. In my still-sleepy state, their vigor and energy made me a little dizzy.

I sat on a bench overlooking the sound, facing Mt. Ranier in its mist-cloaked glory, and finally ate my danish. Shards of pastry showered my protruding belly, and I was grateful.

Summer Bread Baking: Part 1

Summer is my favorite season. Tomatoes, berries, stone-fruit, salad, cold wine, days that stretch from 5am to 10pm (at least in the Pacific Northwest), bare skin, swimming, barbecues, sunshine. I’d rather be hot than cold; I’ll take sweaty and sluggish over frost-nipped and shivering any day.

me ayla ice cream

And yet, this year, it’s a little more challenging: As of today, June 12th, 2015, I’m 30 weeks pregnant (that’s 7-and-a-half months for you non-preggos). I’m bigger than I have ever been in my life, my blood-volume has almost doubled, everything is hard. And I am hot.

Opening the three windows that actually open in my apartment doesn’t accomplish much beyond letting in the aromas of vehicle exhaust and my neighbor’s overflowing ashtray, baking in the sun. At night, I’m down to just a sheet, promptly kicked off.

The upshot of this is that I really, really don’t want to turn on the oven. This is problematic, since my summer diet is fairly sandwich-centric, and I’m getting really sick of mediocre store-bought bread. Don’t get me wrong: Seattle is replete with good bakeries. But nice bread is expensive, I’m more squeamish about dumpster-diving in my present condition, and the artisanal hearth-loaves that make such exquisite toast often fall short when it comes to sandwich-making.

When I looked at the weather forecast (which I do obsessively) and discovered that today was only supposed to hit 68 degrees, I jumped at the chance to make bread.

sponge

Bread baking, unlike many other kinds of baking, is not an exact science. I relish the opportunity to add a little of this, a little of that, and to vary my rise times. Today, I decided to make a large batch, fermented in several stages. I started with a wet sponge: a couple quarts of lukewarm water, a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flours, and about 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast. I let that sit for a couple of hours until it was bubbly, then added more flour, ground flax seeds, and salt. I kneaded the resulting dough to smooth elasticity while listening to an archived episode of This American Life.

i love flax seeds

dough

kneading

Lacking a bowl large enough to let the dough rise, I resorted to a stock pot; miraculously, it fit in the fridge. (I wanted to keep the dough cold to allow for a long, slow rise in order to develop more flavor—and so I could hold off on baking until nightfall!)

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I’m going to proof and bake my loaves later this evening. Heck, as long as the oven’s on, maybe I’ll even make a pie…

Signs of Distress

There’s this guy who I see sometimes, on a bench by the canal. He has an old-fashioned radio, complete with twiddly knobs and a broken mirror taped to the top. He holds this ensemble very close to his face, while he raps along to the music quietly issuing from the radio and grimaces into the mirror. Sometimes he does this for hours at a time.

There’s another guy who I often see walking the canal trail. He may be carrying grocery bags, or he may be empty-handed. He is extraordinarily thin, he walks very fast, and he is always dressed for cold weather. Yesterday, it was in the mid-eighties; still, he was wearing a wool hat with ear-flaps, a winter coat, and bulky black pants. He never looks at me, or as far as I can tell, at anyone. He appears entirely single-minded in his walking.

The behavior of the first, I find incredibly disturbing, whereas that of the second elicits curiosity, pity, a strange sense of protectiveness. I dread the thought of Mirror Man observing me observing him, whereas I would welcome an acknowledgement from Walking Man, the opportunity to meet his eyes and smile. Why should this be so? Each man exists apparently outside of the social world, absorbed within his own reality. Both exhibit signs of what is commonly understood as mental illness. Why, then, does one man provoke feelings of threat and revulsion, whereas the other strikes me as completely innocuous?

I have a story that I’ve made up about Walking Man, most likely wrong. In this story, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which is the impetus for his walking. Although he’s skinny and worn-looking (he does, after all, spend his life walking briskly from place to place), he has a home that he returns to, where people—probably parents—love him, and make sure that he is fed and clothed and sheltered at night. In reality, he’s probably homeless (though he may well have OCD.)

I don’t have stories about the other man—yet. I haven’t seen him as frequently, for one thing. Also, because of my response to him, he’s remained, thus far, an Other, not a person with a history and a family and a context. I assume he’s in the grip of drugs and delusions, feeding and enriching one another in a continual cycle of disordered fixation.

The walking behavior seems innocent. With his slight frame swaddled as if for winter, his hands occupied by paper grocery bags, his posture upright, Walking Man projects a kind of harmless self-possession, a stoic vulnerability. Mirror Man, on the other hand, seems like he’s practicing for a confrontation. Shirtless, hunched over his radio, head jerking, gaze fixed on his own image in the broken mirror, his performance seems like a metaphor for the aggressive solipsism to which so many of us succumb.

Of course, I know nothing about these people. My assumptions have no factual basis, and my instincts might be all wrong. I’m used to having my perceptions shown to be grossly distorted—reflections of myself, as much as of those I’m perceiving.

the walking man walks
the walking man walks

I want to believe

lockette

Yesterday was logically impossible. It was magic. It was a miracle.

I’m talking, of course, about the Seahawks’ ridiculously improbable victory in the NFC Championships against the Packers. Down 16-0 at halftime, Seattle made an insane comeback in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points in the last 2:09 of the game, and winning in overtime.

Now, I know barely anything about football, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to analyze the game or dissect anyone’s performance. Suffice it to say, for the first three quarters, Seattle sucked (okay, I will also say that, according to the people who actually know what they’re talking about, our defense – AKA the Legion of Boom – did a good job of keeping us in the game). But they refused to give up, and made a stunning comeback.

With just a few minutes left on the clock, Seahawks fans everywhere were dejected and somber. At four minutes, I almost said aloud, “it’s over.” But something told me not to. A stubborn voice in my head insisted, “it’s not over til it’s over!”

And it wasn’t.

As anyone who’s read this blog before has probably figured out, cynicism comes easily to me. Faith and positivity and warm-fuzzies are nice and all, but they don’t seem particularly reflective of reality. And yet… As skeptical and detached as I can be, I want to believe in serendipity, in the power of faith in yourself and your (literal or metaphorical) teammates, in seemingly impossible victories, in miracles. Yesterday, the Seahawks made me believe.

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ugh

These days, all I want to do is take naps and baths and sit around reading.

I don’t want to go outside.

I don’t want to go to work.

I don’t want to write.

Although these activities are essential, seasonal inertia (in addition to other weird things happening in my body – more on that later) has engulfed me, and I feel exhausted and uninspired much of the time.

I have a dog who must be walked, so I go outside, reluctantly. The sky is moist and grey and mocks whatever nascent optimism dares to rise within me.

I like living in a safe, cozy apartment and having food to eat, so I go to work. The job that once filled me with rapturous excitement has begun to feel repetitive and routine.

I desperately long to feel effective in the world, to reconcile my creative stirrings with my actual output. And, who am I kidding: I’d love to “make it” as a writer. Trouble is, there’s nothing forcing me to write. Nothing as compelling as an exercise-hungry dog or the need to keep my job.

I know there’s really no such thing as “writer’s block”: just a lack of discipline. And while this seems like a really poor premise for a blog post, I have to write about something. Anything. Just to do it. Just to write.