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Friday, March 28th, 2008

Nothing like a few good juxtapositions to get a person going in the morning, like the big fat lazy snowflakes drifting through the Portland sky at this moment, falling on cherry blossoms and melting instantly. Eating breakfast at the table by the window, I saw a jogger in shorts, a long-sleeved T-shirt and tennis shoes, carrying an umbrella to fend off snowflakes. Or how about this news? My new home town has the world’s first vegan strip club. Or as a local newspaper put it, “Boobs with a Side of Soy.” Will this business be able to overcome the economic doldrums besetting the rest of the country? Only time will tell.

The world is so full of a number of things/ I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings. –Robert Louis Stevenson

I doubt there is a king in the world as happy as I am with my life. The work on the book goes well. Chloe is curled warmly on the top of my chair. And nothing in the world is dependable but change. As Faust said, thereby damning himself to hell, “Linger a while, thou art so fair.”


Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”–Jorge Luis Borges

This is the inscription over the main door to the Portland library. I set out today to get to the river park, but I failed. I passed the Bearing Service Company, its walls lined with small compartments full of bearings of every conceivable size. If anyone wants to find their bearings, I know where to send them. I got as far as the library, wandered in, and ended up spending a couple of hours in it, enjoying the architecture, the proportions, the light, the long wooden tables and rather stern wooden chairs, the friendly librarians, the books on display, the arrangement of rooms, the bustle and joy. First there is that inscription, which made me smile, and then I stepped into the main lobby, with its large white-streaked-with-garnet marble columns and its grand art deco staircase, black stone stairs wonderfully etched with natural motifs (foliage, a trout, a bear, a monkey [?],  intermingled with a violin, a rolling pin, an envelope, an inkstand, with words woven into the design: CREATE, DISCOVER, HOPE, SEEK). The main reading rooms are two stories high, with fifteen-foot windows to let in the light.  I climbed the broad staircase to the third floor (domed, beautifully lit) past all the look-alike portraits of white men in black suits, to a colorful portrait of Dorothy D. Hirsch, a gray-haired woman surrounded by books and greenery, a woman who looks like everybody’s favorite well-informed, well-read, civilized librarian–someone you would expect to make outrageous, irreverent, hilarious observations. In the painting there’s a book by Ursula LeGuin on the table by Dorothy. [read on]

Portland by camera

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I make absolutely no claim to being a photographer, but this city is so gorgeous I can’t help pointing and shooting, and everywhere I aim the camera there is more beauty. So here is what I saw this afternoon. I uploaded everything to Flickr, including pictures of Chloe and one picture of the outside of this high-rise I now live in. Sadly, my little cheap digital camera cannot do justice to the shades of gray in the sky. The skies in the pictures just look white, but they are not white. They are at least a hundred shades of gray, rolling clouds and cloud-banks constantly changing like the sea. Every picture in this set was made within a ten-block radius of my new home. Don’t you wish you lived here?

Finding my bearings

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I wrote the title for this blog post and then wondered where the phrase came from. Apparently it means “Establishing awareness of one’s position or situation relative to one’s surroundings.” That works. It also works for me to imagine that I have lost a great many little round pieces of metal and am trying to find them again. Starting work on the book is not a simple matter of sitting down and putting words on the screen. I diddled with it for a few hours yesterday afternoon while Chloe explored the apartment around me, mewing with rising inflections that sounded like question-marks and looking back at me expectantly, as if she believed I could answer those questions if I would just leave that stupid keyboard and apply myself. After a few hours of this, I looked at what I had written and found it abysmally stupid; deleted everything and sat down in my new yellow chair to pet Chloe, to gaze out the window at the sunset bathing layers of cloud in vaguely pink pearlescence, and to listen to Alfred Brendel playing Schubert. [read on]

Chloe enters my life

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I didn’t get the brain-damaged cat. I got, instead, a tiny perfect ten-month-old spayed female Abyssinian who was given the name Chloe by her former owner. She looks like this (link comes from the website of the woman from whom I got her and is Chloe herself just a couple of months ago). I had planned to name my new cat Sati, which is the Pali word for awareness–but Chloe already knows her name, and I’m quite happy to live with that name, with its Virginia Woolf associations. I will not be a bore and talk endlessly about my animal companion, but I will say that her presence nourishes me, makes me laugh, and brings me back to this moment in the body. Who doesn’t need all of that? And now, on with the new book.

Human stupidity

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

One of the things I decided when I was on the retreat is that I’m ready to have an animal companion in my life again. I spent some time online and found one that really called to me, a cat who appears to be what is called “Chartreux.” I did some research on Chartreux, and given my recent love of the film Into Great Silence (about the Carthusian brothers in Chartreuse, France)–and the connection (if only apocryphal) of these cats with that monastery, I drove out to the cat shelter today, where I learned that the cat I had chosen was not, as it says on the internet, abandoned by her former custodians. Would that were all there is to her story! When the police busted a meth house and hauled off its residents, they found this little gray cat, dazed and confused. The residents told the cops her name was “Meth Cat” and that they had kept her “high” on meth. They thought it was funny. When the vet at the cat shelter examined her, she found the little cat has permanent brain damage and occasionally gets seizures. The people at the shelter say she is “perpetually confused” and her eyes look like she is always “very surprised by everything.” The little gray cat is in a foster home right now, and so far I haven’t been able to contact the foster care-giver. I’ve left her a message. Maybe living with one quiet writer who is always very surprised by everything, in a little studio apartment with a view of the Fremont Bridge, is just what that little cat needs. Or maybe she is too badly damaged. I’ll wait and see. But the unbearable stupidity of the meth-heads who did this to that little animal keeps making my eyes water.

Making commitments

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

OK, the newness has worn off. I live in Portland now. It’s time to clean the bathroom, do laundry, buy groceries, and get on with it. I did the new-girl-in-town thing, pushing past my native shyness to thrust myself into social situations (Chinese aerobics, the UU church, a writing workshop, a reading, a writer’s group, meetings with some splendid local women I found online, a kindly tax man, and a playful and worldly barber who cut my hair). I’ve met a fascinating array of people, some of whom may become real friends, given time and circumstance, so I feel I can now back off, quit pushing myself, and wait to see what comes. I’m a little more than halfway through the second volume of Proust, and because Proust’s angst-ridden introspection is so much like my own that when it doesn’t make me laugh it wears me out, I’ve also picked up Snow, by Orhan Pamuk. I rekindled my Netflix subscription and have a few good films to look at. But what do I want to commit to, other than my own writing and the self-indulgent pleasures of life beyond employment? Now that I have no excuse NOT to walk my talk, how do I want to contribute to the world in this place? That is the question. [read on]


Thursday, February 28th, 2008

 This comes from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, which I enjoyed watching last night: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something–a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things–that you’d thought special–particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met. Maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” I can’t agree that those are the best moments in reading (there is also much to be said for the pleasure of encountering inner and outer realms one has never seen or imagined, for knowledge of the unknown, and for ideas one has never had), but I do relish that hand Bennett speaks of, and it seems to have been the theme of the day yesterday. [read on]

A book, Chinese aerobics, a garden

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

 Portland continues to uncurl to me. I’m discovering what it’s like to be free of wage-earning employment, moving forward on my current writing project. Yesterday I received a copy of a book of poetry written by homeless women in Seattle. Monday and Tuesday I attended the Chinese Aerobics, and this afternoon a new friend took me to the Japanese Gardens. [read on]

Waking up

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

I woke at 4 a.m. today, gasping in wonder at my privilege in being alive and here in this moment. I couldn’t go back to sleep and miss a moment of this. Will it ever feel “normal”? I sat up in bed and watched the traffic crossing the on-ramp and off-ramp to the Columbia River Highway Bridge; and I basked in the pleasure of (a) what is to come: my couch and chair will be delivered today and my new apartment will be fully assembled; (b) what just happened: a night out at the film festival with a vivacious new acquaintance during a total eclipse of the full moon; and (c) luxuriating: in my new adjustable bed with deep latex mattress that sucks me into its cushy stillness, in the view out the window, in the joy that keeps on coming. I could burst with so much happiness. Only my certainty that everything changes allows me to admit to it. This is as good as it gets. [read on]