Why you might want to back BOLDT Grain to Bottle Spirits by Alchemy Distillery (a testimonial)

This started as a Facebook post, but the more I thought about all the reasons to support Steve and Amy Bohner’s new business, the more obvious it became that I would need more room to write. So here I am, doing something I haven’t done in a long time: Suggesting what people do with their money.

The quick version is the Bohners are great people who’ve been successful at what they’ve done, now want to do more – “more” being their own distillery – are seeking backers via Kickstarter, and you can get in on this action.

The longer version goes like this:

My social and professional worlds have overlapped with the Bohners since 2002, when Steve’s business was fledgling, Amy was sewing rock’n’roll pillows and they were fixtures on the local music scene. I’ve admired much about them, starting with how hard they’ve worked. Despite the late nights playing gigs at the Alibi, Steve put 10-hour days and most weekends into Alchemy Construction, which specializes in energy-efficient building, primarily through solar and radiant heat elements.

Why the green focus? Steve said to me a long time ago that he figured it was better to do things right if you were going to do them. Even then, the Bohners were always thinking ahead – and giving back, both in the form of Amy’s work at Humboldt Women for Shelter and The County’s Healthy Moms Program, and the Alchemy’s unflagging support of local nonprofits including Humboldt Roller Derby, the Kinetic Grand Championship, the Humboldt Crabs, Arcata Little League, KHSU and the Rampart Skateboard Facility. They’ve also kicked down every time I’ve hit them up for one of my Planned Parenthood teams. Their business success impresses – Alchemy Construction has scored many notable projects – but it’s Steve and Amy’s dedication to this Humboldt community that most garners my appreciation.

Now, I’ve heard some folks grumble, isn’t Kickstarter just a way of asking for handouts? Well, no. It’s a way to bypass the middlemen and invest directly in people who only make Humboldt better economically, socially and culturally – and you receive cool schwag! I also enjoy a fine whiskey on occasion and would be thrilled to have that spirit crafted right here in my beloved Humboldt. Especially by people I know will do it the way they do everything else: with skill and passion.

Speaking of passion, here’s a small aside. I’ve been married for almost 22 years and, as most married folks know, partnership isn’t always an easy thing. I’ve often considered the Bohners an example of how to do it right. Take their weekly date nights. I remember wondering, back in those early days, why childless people bothered with date night – isn’t every night date night if you don’t have kids? But later I came to realize that, children or not, date night is a way to affirm the worth of your relationship, keeping connection a priority, reminding each other how much you matter. The Bohners got this from the start. I imagine their dinner conversations have involved the sharing of dreams and then delight as those dreams manifest. It makes me happy to get in on those dreams in my small way.

That’s my story. About their story. So if you are also a fan of big dreams, bigger accomplishments and you have some spending money, here’s a way to make Humboldt’s future that much more promising.

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writing exercise #43: “She was starting to believe in God, but for all the wrong reasons.”

She was starting to believe in God, but for all the wrong reasons. The foray into faith began with the toaster. No matter what setting she twisted the knob to, her toast came out crispy. She didn’t like crispy toast. She preferred the slightest browning, just enough time to transform the bread to toast and then stop! and softened butter because cold butter would tear the bread, or toast, rather, and a smidge of jam, a thin layer, membrane-like, of sweetness. The delicacy appealed to her, the gentle blend of flavors, the way a crisp bite would yield to softness

But now the toaster turned every slice of bread into a hard brown square that even a half-inch thick smear of jam could not fix. Because she could not bear wasting food, she had to eat it. The process invoked suffering. Each reluctant bite followed by dutiful chews until finally the wafer-like hunk could be swallowed, digested.

As she chewed, she pondered what had led to this. The obvious connection was how she had recently burned her best friend by applying for the same job and getting it. They’d pretended the competition was friendly. It had been friendly on her part, she was sure. Of course, being friendly about competition came easier when you had the advantage. She pulled her fingers through her artfully tousled hair and swallowed.

It wasn’t just the toaster, of course. A lifelong dedication to atheism couldn’t be undone by a standard household appliance. Her potential conversion to belief was also triggered by the car, which, despite being only two years old, had started having problems after she’d passed the hitchhiker. She never stopped for hitchhikers – the rule had been embedded into her womanly psyche early on. She didn’t stop for hitchhikers, she didn’t walk alone to her car late at night and she didn’t write letters to incarcerated men. These were basic guidelines all women should live by. But this one particular hitchhiker. He stood at the base of the bridge, his long locks blowing Jesus-like – she actually thought this at the time – “Jesus-like” – and his smile encompassing his eyes, unlike most hitchhikers who barely smiled and seemed more menacing when they did – this guy, his smile lit up the air like sunbeams through a raincloud. She had smiled back and was still grinning when their eyes met. Her foot eased on the gas and her hands on the steering wheel shifted slightly to the right before she shook herself back into enough awareness to reapply the gas, keep going. No matter how appealing, she thought, one should not pick up hitchhikers. She knew this to be true and yet. And yet. A certain guilt settled onto her shoulders and his imagined face appeared before her, disappointed.

The next day her car overheated. Redlined a block from her house. She waited, tried to drive again, cranked the heater full blast in hopes of staving off the damage. Five minutes later, she was back on the side of the road, calling Triple A. While she waited, she could’ve sworn she saw the hitchhiker go by, comfortably ensconced in the passenger seat of a Nissan Armada, his eyes connecting with hers in the millisecond between rain drops. Of course it was raining. She had shivered. She had waited. She had convinced the tow truck driver to stop at the grocery store – they were passing right by it, after all – so she could run in and grab a bottle of cheap red wine. “Please?” she’d cajoled. “I mean, after all” – giggle – “what a crazy day! Am I right?” She’d twisted her fingers around a lock of hair. “I’d love to buy you a six-pack as a tip.”

The driver had laughed and declined, but he had laughed, so she’d known she’d had him. She kept up the chatter the rest of the way home, a way of thanking him.

The final blow, or inspiration, depending on one’s perspective, arrived in the mail. A parking ticket. For her no-longer working car, which had been working long enough for her to illegally park long enough to sneak into a bar and have two quick cocktails before taking a sauna that, she hoped, would detox her into perfect sobriety before her volunteer shift at the twins’ Animal Action night. Actually that wasn’t the final blow. The final blow, or inspiration, depending on one’s perspective, was the pregnancy test. The one she’d taken after an impossible one-night-stand with, Mary swore, a guy named Joe. She was sure that was his name. And the thing was, they hadn’t even quite had sex. Bringing someone home was not something she did – don’t pick up hitchhikers, the mantra repeated in her head. But the twins had been having their first sleepover at a friend’s and in the rush of freedom, she’d gone dancing – dancing! – and one thing and then another and suddenly she and Joe were on her bed and her skirt was up and his pants were down and then – oh! – he’d made a mess between her thighs before she could even ask about a condom. Jesus Christ, she’d said, not meaning to embarrass him further, but shocked, who wouldn’t be caught off guard. And apparently she hadn’t cleaned up fast enough.

So here was God, she had determined, punishing her for not being generous enough, for being vain, for lustfulness. She was pretty sure these were at least some of the deadly sins. She thought about the others as she scrolled through the list of churches in town. One of them would have to take her in.

writing exercise #42

PROMPT: The problem with puppets – and dolls and ventriloquist dummies – is that they occupy what’s called the uncanny valley. That’s the valley between alive and not alive, real and fake.

* * *

When she first arrived, he admired her eyebrows. It sounds strange to the uninitiated, but eyebrows challenge even the best designers. Too bushy and their woolly presence distracts. Too sparse and the artifice becomes obvious. This was true, too, of actual human women. His ex-wife would pluck to near oblivion, bleach the surviving hairs, then draw her version of what a woman’s eyebrows should look like using a makeup pencil more expensive than the ones he used for storyboarding. Which was saying something. But at least his work had brought in income. Still brought in income. Much of which went to his ex-wife. So it goes.

The puppet laid on her back, eyes unblinking beneath her perfect brows. If she could have seen, which, of course, she could not, she would have noticed the way the man’s lip twitched on the right side every time he raised his hand to make a note on the paper-laden clipboard he carried. How archaic, she might have thought, to use paper. She would have also noticed his thinning hair and the way his own eyebrows unfurled as though desperate to escape his face. Although, being a puppet, she may not have thought in such poetic terms.

And what of his eyebrows? If they could speak for themselves, perhaps they would confirm their desire to flee a face such as they’d been consigned to. After all, the sweaty forehead, the broken blood vessels strewn across the nose and upper cheeks – these were not signs of success. Neither was the wax built up and flaking from the ears. If the eyebrows could determine their own fate, they might choose more wisely. Plenty of successful men had unruly eyebrows and, truth be know and if were to come to this, they would not resent sacrificing a few strays for the sake of grooming if it were to mean greater peace for the many.

He lifted her from the box, tugged her dress smooth across her chest, settled her onto his knee. As he shifted her, her eyelids fell, rose, fell, rose again. “Hello!” he said.

“Hello!” she said, or rather, he said in a falsetto voice.

“How’s it going?” he asked. He immediately regretted opening with such a clichéd question. He’d read recently that asking someone how it was going was evidence that one had failed to pay attention. What a person should be able to do, the blog post – titled 7 Ways to Cultivate Charisma – explained, is ask specifics. Such as “How was your trip to Zimbabwe?” or “Did Susie’s surgery take care of things as you’d hoped?” or “Did your daughter get that scholarship to ABSuccess Preschool?” What the post failed to explain was how, especially if you were the sort of person who could barely retain the name of the person you actually knew, how you were also supposed to remember the names of their respective people and those people’s goings-ons. If he could be that charismatic one-on-one, he thought, would he have turned to the stage?

She wanted to answer him. Or rather, she would have wanted to answer him if she’d been real. But of course, she was not. If she was, however, what she would have said would have been, “I’m elated! Despite the fact that a strange man has his hand up my dress, haha, I’m happy to be out of that box!” And then he might laugh and ask if he was really so strange and then she would say, “Have you looked in the mirror lately? Are those eyebrows or confused caterpillars?” Which was not the best joke, she knew, but what did they want from her? She was new to this world, to this role, and had only the input of her masters to work from.

The box, if it was sentient, might have resented her quick dismissal. Had it not cradled her safely from an outpost in China, across the sea, over the dull patchwork of the Midwest to this relative palace? She thought her role was limited, the box might have thought if boxes could think, which of course, they cannot, but if they could, the box might have pointed out, rather petulantly, that it was to live but a brief life, mashed into being, rudely shipped away, soon to be flung on the fire.

He turned her toward him. “I’m sorry, that’s a stupid question,” he said. “Let me rephrase. Are you tired from your long journey?”

She smiled, although since her lips were frozen into the expression they’d given her, she was always smiling, so telling the difference was impossible. “I am tired!” she said, he said. “But I’m so pleased to be here and make your acquaintance.”

 He smiled back at her. “Would you like a tour of your new home?”

 “Yes!” they said.

He walked her through the house, pointing out the art, the hot-water-on-demand, the bathroom window he left open because the salt air wafting in from the ocean was too sweet to shut out. “I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “I don’t suppose you understand.”

 She wanted – if a puppet could want – to reassure him. Maybe she couldn’t smell things, technically, but she liked the idea of it.

 “It’s fine!” she, he enthused.

They continued the tour in companionable silence. When they reached the bedroom, he tucked her in before changing into his pajamas. Normally he slept naked, but with her, dummy that she was, being naked felt inappropriate.

If she was real, she would have thanked him. The eyebrows were bad enough.

The eyebrows, if they had eyes of their own, would have rolled them. “Really?” they would have said. At least we’re real. At least, they would have said, we’re real.

insomnia #22 aka “I Want to Know What Love Is”

It worries me that the songs most often stuck in my head are by Foreigner. 1.) I’m not that old. 2.) Foreigner, really? Why not The Cure or Violent Femmes or Concrete Blonde or Elvis Costello or Nirvana or PJ Harvey? Bands that seeped into my adolescence, bands that soundtracked me into adulthood. Bands that meant something to me. I’d welcome something recent – I do listen to new music daily, after all – anything decent, something to reassure me I’m neither obsolete nor lacking in taste.

But, no. It’s all “Jukebox Hero” and “Cold as Ice” and “Urgent” bouncing around in my skull as I’m lying in bed at 3 a.m. unable to sleep. That, as much as the inability to stop the concurrent roil of thoughts, forced me out of bed.

Let’s talk about surfing instead. As ever, I don’t surf enough – there is no enough – but I did get out for a session earlier this week, scored a few fast, head-high rights in a friendly crowd before the wave shut down like our time had run out. (“Put another quarter in!” we joke, those of us familiar with quarter-driven mechanical animal rides.) The wind accelerated as we paddled around in search of that one more, one more, one more that would finally take us in to the beach. I need a new wetsuit (again) and the breeze on top of the cold water had me shivering – by the time I managed to pick off a left, my calfs were cramping and my knees stiff.

But, still. Surfing was better than not surfing. The current never relented and my shoulders ached the next day from all the paddling – “It should be called ‘paddling,’ not ‘surfing,’” one of my friends regularly jokes – and the ache made me happy.

I should read something and I think I will soon. When did the habit become always to turn to the computer? Alison Bechdel’s marvelous Fun Home waits to be finished, New Yorkers pile up alongside Mental Floss and The Atlantic as if our living room is a waiting room, only I never find myself sitting down, killing time until someone is ready for me. Instead, I am the person people are waiting for as I finish the dishes, fold the laundry, pay the bills, complain that the bathroom needs cleaning, announce for the millionth time, “I have so much to do.” Last year, I practiced making Sundays a no-screen, no-car day with the only exception being to look up the swell and/or drive to the waves. It was lovely to lie on the couch, book in hand, or jaunt out to the beach sans phone, and I think I will try it again.

Does everyone obsess about improving themselves? We absorb endless messages about how to be smarter, happier, more successful. Thinner. (Always thinner.) In between the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently” and “8 Facts Will Make You More Productive” (both of which I have bookmarked, along with “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 a.m.” and “5 Scientific Secrets to High Performance“) – in between these manifestos on How To Be Better are treatises on the importance of self-acceptance. I often wonder at what point we’re allowed to stop striving and say instead, “Look, this is how I am.”

Because I know a lot of people who wear their faults without regret, embrace their curmudgeonly or messy selves or, more likely, just get on with the business of living as if part of them isn’t hovering above, watching and judging their behavior without pause. Oblivion to one’s effect on others has drawbacks, but sometimes I would appreciate a break from so much worry.

I was reading an advice column – partly because I enjoy advice and good writing, and partly because I’m a human who does things and has people, so I can usually relate in some way to what’s happening (unless it’s Savage Love, which, perhaps sadly, offers problems more exciting than my own) – when a line in a letter from a frustrated former employee regarding an open position at her prior workplace resonated: “I don’t think I actually want the job; I’m well aware of the frustrations and challenges of that particular role. What I want is for them to want me.”

Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even if I don’t want to come to your party, I will be hurt if you don’t invite me.

And then it was as columnist Heather Havrilesky climbed into my brain with her response:

“…So you wanted someone to show you that they noticed all of this hard work. You wanted to feel wanted. Instead, they said ‘Sorry, we just can’t promote you.’ Here’s what they DIDN’T say: ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That’s what you HEARD, but that’s not what they actually said.

“…And maybe you’ve never seen a therapist. Maybe… you return to old slights as if there’s some important mystery to be solved there, as if the more you dig up buried disappointments, the more you’ll learn about what you did wrong. You figure you fucked up something, or maybe there’s something off about the people involved, and if you look really hard at the mess you left behind, you might figure it all out.

“…I will work tirelessly to be understood. I will explain and re-explain. And at some level, I am absolutely certain that, with enough explaining, I will be understood and embraced—at long last!”

That last one, seriously. My friends laugh (at least I hope they laugh) about how prone I am to following up conversations with emails elaborating on “What I actually meant in case I wasn’t clear” or “I didn’t mean to be a jerk when I said such-and-such.” Havrilesky’s lengthy response could have been aimed at – or written by – me. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because I’m not lacking in validation or (I think) confidence. But we take the good feedback for granted sometimes, weight the criticism as if it means more, then spend our efforts trying to prove ourselves to the wrong people. (Please note how I switched to third person there. Because it’s not just me… right?)

Which is why the advice in the final paragraph should be taken to heart:

“Some workplaces, some bosses, some friends, some relatives, some exes will never want you, and will never appreciate all of the amazing qualities you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with you. Forget them. Build those parts of you that make you feel peaceful and accepting and satisfied and soft and vulnerable. Make a religion out of letting go. You do great work, and everyone knows it. Don’t fixate on the indifferent. Keep yourself surrounded by people who look you in the eye, listen closely, and really seem interested in you as a person. Try to do the same for your friends. Stop working so goddamn hard for once in your life. You are already good enough.”

Look, this is how I am.

 

 

Life’s obvious lessons or it’s amazing what you can get done when…

I’m writing because I told myself to write this morning. After all, I’m between full-time gigs and was supposed to use January and February to 1.) finish my novel; 2.) surf every day; 3.) whip the yard and garden into shape; 4.) do all the house projects that I’ve been too busy to do while working 40-plus hours per week. And read and work out and go for hikes and make sure I’m carving out enough family time and couple time and maybe take that tango class we’ve been promising ourselves we’d take for years.

Yeah, sometimes I tend to overestimate my ability to accomplish – although to be fair, the days when I am disciplined about my time often end with a small glow of satisfaction warming my brain. One of my favorite scenes in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues was when Denzel Washington’s character, Bleek Gilliam, explains to one of his girlfriends that you have to do the same thing at the same time each day because that’s how shit gets done. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) Less exciting forms of research reinforce that concept: Routine is good for accomplishment.

The other key, courtesy of my friend Niki Bezzant and a mantra I’ve uttered approximately one gazillion times over the past decade (including on this blog, I’m sure), is this: “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t arse around.” (Or as we say in America, “… when you don’t fuck around.”)

So here I am, writing because I told myself I should write first thing in the morning while the house is quiet and the sky is too dark for a surf adventure. Sure, I’m running behind already – the sun came up an hour ago – and the house’s silence has been broken by my husband clomping downstairs and into the kitchen where he’s putting water on for coffee – the water whooshes out of the faucet, the gas clicks on, the kettle clanks down, the flame whooshes to life like I wish my imagination would. Nonetheless, I persevere. (If you’re reading this, I can’t promise it will get any better. Please feel free to go admire my lovely rainbow photo on Facebook instead – none of the thousand or so words I will write here will come close to matching the beauty of that moment. If only perfect prose was as easy to stumble upon as the right combination of sun and rain.)

Now my husband is blowing his nose and I want to kill him. It is hell being married to a writer. Or a wannabe writer. Or maybe just me.

What I thought I would write about going in was transition. And value. Transition because the past several months have encompassed so much change and value because that was the concurrent theme.

I’m now wondering if I can lift the rest of the post up from the preceding deadening sentence.

It’s not that I didn’t know the job would come to an end. But my coworker and I had just found out our funders planned to continue supporting our work. We’d high-fived at a conference in Southern California – “Havin’ a job! Yeah!” – which made the call from my boss a week later surprising. Regret tinged her voice as she went down the list of talking points concerning the organizational layoffs, which included the elimination of my position (and my coworker’s). She sounded sad enough that I made a joke in an attempt to reassure her I was okay. After we hung up, tears came. This job had been the palace ball and I’d been Cinderella – except, this being real life, no Prince Charming would be swooping in to collect me (and pay my bills) after the fact*. On the upside, I had six months to figure out a next step. On the downside, even when you know it’s not personal, being told you’re no longer valuable enough to the organization to be kept on can mess up a person’s self-perception.

Looking outside of Humboldt reinforced what I already knew: I have neither the educational background nor the big world experience to score a serious job. This triggered a lot of what-the-hell-have-I-done-with-my-life thinking. For a while I couldn’t imagine being hired by anyone for anything. Maybe waitressing. At some point, I’m embarrassed to say, a certain bitterness settled in. I am good at some things, damn it. But, my thinking went, those things aren’t valued by the stupid people in this stupid world that we live in. Why isn’t the ability to put words together in a semi-pleasing way with a minimum of typos a job that pays a living wage? Why isn’t being able to get along and find commonality with all different folks an existing job I could apply for? Why do incompetent douchebaggery types still have jobs and I don’t? How come people don’t come courting me if I’m as rich in talent as my performance reviews – and supportive friends – suggest?

This is not a productive way to think – and I am all about productive – but pulling up from the self-esteem nosedive isn’t easy. Because some truth exists to it, right? If the question asked is, “Why don’t people want me?” then potential answers inevitably include, “Because you suck.” This is where I started getting hung up on value, predominantly my own worth (as measured by what people were willing to pay me to do), but also what I elevate to importance in my own life and how that relates to the greater world.

As all this was happening, my youngest kid graduated high school, my middle kid moved away to Santa Cruz, my oldest continued her own adult life down in Long Beach. With only one kid in the house, my husband and I took over the upstairs – the master bedroom and a small room I’ve turned into a walk-in closet/project space. Although I worry as much (or more) than ever, our hands-on parenting days are over. For a couple that never lived together before having kids, this new chapter is without precedent and raises a whole bunch of questions. If parenting is inherently valuable and we’ve focused on that to the detriment of our careers, what happens now? Who will we be without parental obligations defining us? How will we relate to each other without the children’s needs being the center around which we revolved? With the breathing room to consider the future, what did we see? And, more importantly, did we see it together?

Here are some things I learned, in no particular order because time is short and the keyboard battery is low:

  • You can’t make people value you. Your kids, your coworkers, the people you wish would hire you, the people you wish would love you. All you can do is do what you love doing, work hard, strive to do it well. Maybe someone will pay you to do this thing for a living someday. Maybe someone you look up to will turn to you and say, “Hey, this is real good.” But you have to do it for the love of doing it, because you believe in the fundamental value of what you’re doing. If you build it, they might come – but if they don’t, you sure as hell better enjoy stretching out in the sunshine admiring the clear, blue sky.
  • Life isn’t fair – hardly a new concept, sure, but still, a hard one to swallow when you’re considering unemployment while people who are obviously far more horrible than you are whistling while they work. The problem with brooding on the world’s unfairness is twofold: you might forget all the ways in which you yourself have been lucky and you put yourself at risk for turning into a grudge-bearing asshole. I’ve been guilty on both counts in the past. (But I have SO MUCH character at this point!)
  • Booze does not help. It’s the worst in fact.
  • How to get over yourself: Express appreciation, daily, to people you love and admire, especially those who’ve tolerated your self-pitying behavior. Distract yourself from freaking out about your life by engaging in it. Take the goddamn tango class with your spouse already. Invite those gracious, kind, fun friends of yours over for brunch. Read books that take your brain to another place. Go new places, whether restaurants or hiking trails, together or alone. Get the fuck away from the computer.
  • Take more walks on the beach and fling yourself more often into the ocean (metaphorically if necessary). Nothing – and I mean nothing – like being out in the fresh air in this place of beauty to give you perspective and kick you into a more positive gear. Bitter? Insecure? Hike or bike until your legs give out. Rent a kayak and paddle the hell out of the bay. Whatever. Push yourself physically until your mind turns that corner.

Which is a good note upon which to end. It’s another (drought-riddled) glorious day out there and I’ve got a beach calling.

*The way things went, the folks who fund my conservation work still wanted to fund it, enabling me to find a job with a different environmental organization, thus making them a suitable stand-in for the prince. Rejoicing commenced.

2013 Books in Review with Four-Word Summaries

 

I’m troubled to think these are the only books I read through 2013 and hoping I simply forgot to put the others on the list – too busy Facebooking or something. Of course, the other possibility is I was too busy Facebooking to read, so… In either case, I want to remember what little bit I can.

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan: Vignettes, I love vignettes.

The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter: Clever, funny, relatable read.

Broken Harbour by Tana French: Another twisted detective story.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell: Brilliant, different, magical, sticks.

I Don’t Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner: Amusing, true, sometimes irritating.

Unmastered: A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell by Katherine Angel: Almost lost me. Didn’t.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters: Gorgeous ruminations on desire.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Beloved author, typical brilliance.

Kook by Peter Heller: Surprisingly sharp, sweet read!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Dark, a bit long.

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

If I were to make a list of things I’d most like to leave behind in 2013, insomnia would be up there. I blame the evening’s red wine this time, but the cause could just as easily be falling asleep too early with too much on my mind. It’s a horrible thing, thinking.

My arsenal of sleep aids – herbal teas and tonics, Tylenol PM, relaxation apps – are failing to do the trick tonight. Rather than lie in bed kicking my husband every time he nears snoring, I’m here in front of the computer, writing.

It seemed potentially more productive. New Year’s Eve. Why not take stock?

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January: Our sweet dog died, my younger daughter was detained in London en route to Ireland, I wrote my first Five Things, and a friend and I attended the Presidential inauguration.

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February: My older daughter turned 23, my husband and I relived the ’90s by seeing Soundgarden in Oakland’s Fox Theater, I moved into The Link and I went on an epic surf-work trip to Central Cali, the first of many excursions I’d take with my dear friend Casey.

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March: Spent another week along the central coast, my younger daughter turned 19 and I wrote my first (and so far only) cover story for the North Coast Journal.

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April: My first Five Things column ran in the NCJ, I tripped to Sacramento and Santa Cruz, and I helped coordinate a memorial service and paddle out for John “Moose” Mason, a man whose sudden death brought forth such beautiful tribute from so many people that I found myself thinking, “We should all be so loved” – and that we should all be so kind and good as Moose.

May: Some idiots filming an ad at Moonstone high-centered a Dodge truck on a rock, launching me into Surfrider mode and ending with me being named a “Humboldtian of the Week” on Facebook, a work trip took me to D.C., we attended my fabulous brother’s fabulous wedding in San Francisco, where I stayed on for a conference after – four hotels in 10 days.

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June: Traveled to Long Beach for work and some time with my older daughter, stepped in as the NCJ’s music columnist, spent Summer Solstice at Shelter Cove, wrote about the dead whale that washed up on my beach and was given a six-month layoff heads up.

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July: Played cornhole and bocce ball for the first times and failed at neither, took a vacation to Seattle that included a whale watching tour through the Puget Sound and a stop in Portland on the way back that included visiting a friend with whom I shared a room when we were 18 – and all the required reminiscing that implies, and wrote my favorite Five Things so far.

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August: Threw a most excellent birthday party for my husband’s 50th, was hired on to do part-time outreach for Humboldt Baykeeper and moved my younger daughter to Santa Cruz.

September: Played a small role in Humboldt Made’s big premier, guested on Sherae O’Shaughnessy’s Late Night gig, traveled with Casey to San Diego for the annual Surfrider conference, helped cover the arrest of alleged crossbow killers in Manila, helped clean up around a homeless camp for Coastal Cleanup Day and wrote about it.

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October: My kickball team raised $2,697 for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and came in second in the annual tournament, Casey and Kj joined me for my second excursion to a foreign country, this one a long-anticipated trip to Manzanillo, Mexico, where we spent six days surfing, swimming, reading, drinking and eating tacos – best vacation ever – followed by a closer-to-home excursion to track gray whales and see humpbacks, a transcendent experience.

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November: My son turned 18, my friend Grant and I took off to New York for a week, where I stayed with my brother and his wife and celebrated my own birthday – 44! – at The Comedy Cellar, and upon returning home, my husband and I moved into the upstairs master bedroom after 11 years of downstairs living.

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December: Held what was likely my favorite Ocean Night ever, wrapped up my job with Ocean Conservancy, made plans for a next chapter with the Northcoast Environmental Center, tripped down to Santa Cruz to visit our younger daughter, reminisced about a time I almost died, and trekked up to Crescent City for an especially memorable surf safari due to cramming five people in a Honda CRV, finding fun waves under endless sunshine, a rescue by me of a person drifting out to sea, stinky sea lions, piles of fish and chips and hours of excellent conversation.

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In between and throughout all that, a million photos of sunsets, sunrises and various bodies of water. Also, surfing. My wonderful writers’ group. Parties. Music. Books. Movies. Food. The requisite ups-and-downs and various heartbreaks involved in being a human people who spends time with people. Most importantly, a ton of love and good best friends. I aim to transform this list of things done into something larger and life-useful at some point, but for now, what a reminder that I am a lucky, lucky girl.

A worst thing

There are many worsts in life. This was one of them.

I would never hurt a dog. I found myself repeating that fact out loud. To my children. To the guys who pulled over to help. To myself. I would never hurt a dog.

Seconds before the impact, we’d been glowing from an evening surf, Nick, Kaylee and I, waves and weather conspiring to keep us in the water through dusk. One more, just one more as the sky flared pink and orange, and the ocean shimmered in the sun’s last rays. We’d been raving about the session – So fun! – the three of us smushed in the cab of the truck, what a great surf that had been. We hadn’t all surfed together in months, schedules and temperaments not often aligned.

From the jetty to home is all of ten minutes, a sprint up the spit with a single stop sign interrupting the journey. I don’t speed – even if I were inclined, my truck trundles along on the slow side. But the limit is 55, far too fast to stop in time when two dogs bolt out of the darkness onto the road directly in front of you. I tried. I saw the silhouettes, the kids shouted, “Mom!,” I hit the brakes, I swerved. All these actions piled on top of each other so quickly it was as if they were the same moment. And then the thunk. I pulled over and we ran to the dog I’d hit as Kaylee called 911. The other dog had raced away.

Nick implored me to keep Kaylee away from the dog I’d  hit, but I had no chance. She ran over to it, hoping somehow it would be okay despite that horrible sound. I wanted a miracle as well – in my mind, as I caught up to her, we were already loading the animal into the truck, racing to the emergency vet. But the animal had been killed on impact.

I killed a dog.

I would never hurt a dog. Never.

Nick went off to search for the other one. Kaylee cried and said we had to move the body out of the road so no one else would hit the poor thing. The dog was larger than our old yellow lab we’d lost in January and black in a stretch of street with little light. The thought of picking up the lifeless body, dead weight like a sandbag in my hands, blood, there would be blood, horrified me almost as much as the vision of a car ramrodding over the corpse, splattering the insides across the lane.

And then the responsibility for the aftermath ceased to be mine. A couple guys from Samoa Fire pulled over to see what was happening. Through tears, we explained. They were concerned about my son’s safety – he had not yet returned, but as we spoke, he emerged from the darkness. No luck finding the other dog, he said. He expressed his worry about Kaylee again, frustrated that I’d let her experience the dead dog up close. I couldn’t stop her, I cried. I couldn’t stop.

The volunteers tugged the dog’s body to the side of the road. They reassured me. No way to avoid it, miss. I wanted them to be right. I wanted to think that I could have done nothing else, that underneath the circumstances, the outcome was inevitable. I replay the moment – dogs! brakes! swerve! – over and over.

I would never hurt a dog.

I love dogs. We had a dog for 14 years and I miss her almost every day. My son grew up with her. They were practically littermates. For all his concern over his sister, I know he’s horrified at what I’ve done. What I’ve done. In an instant I went from cool surfer mom to mom-who-killed-a-dog. That the collision was unavoidable is of scant comfort. We lose our children’s idolization bit by bit as they grow older and discover our flaws, learn to their great disappointment that their parents are merely human. We long to be superheroes. A superhero would’ve somehow brilliantly avoided disaster. A superhero would have managed to save the dogs, not kill one of them, scare the other off. I have taken an animal’s life, by accident. Someone, somewhere will miss this dog and I am so, so sorry. I miss the moment ten minutes ago, when life was perfect and hopes high.

A sheriff’s deputy shows up. We explain, again. He reassures, again. He hands me the front license plate he’d picked up from the road – the impact had knocked it off the truck. We shiver in our wetsuits. The men agree nothing remains for me to do. I should take the kids, go home, don’t feel bad. It was an accident. These things happen. There was nothing I could have done.

writing exercise #41

OK, this is a little silly, but I just went with it.

***

The waiter set the crepe in front of her, the slice of lemon twisted upon itself, the powdered sugar shaken to the edge of the plate. “Anything else?” he asked. Lisa shook her head and smiled. He stepped backward, pivoted and turned his attention to another table, a four-top, two couples made up of people most likely in their 20s, she thought. Early 20s. She listened to the guys order for their girlfriends – wives? – as if they were rehearsing for the role in which they had already been cast. “She’ll take the, uh, the one with the sun-dried tomato?”
The waiter knew his trade. “Does the lady want the sun-dried with the goat cheese? Or with the pesto?” he asked the man, then smiled at the woman. Respect appropriately given, the girlfriend – wife? – was free to answer without seeming as though she was correcting her husband. Boyfriend?
Lisa smiled again. Used her knife to slice a bite of crepe and her fork to tuck it into her mouth. The lemon tanged on her tongue even as the sugar sweetened it. She closed her eyes, let the flavors meld a moment longer before swallowing. She opened her eyes, pondered the wisdom of eating her food as if she was in some sort of Italian food commercial, decided she should save the sensual indulgence for somewhere other than the middle of lunch hour at the most popular restaurant in town and so settled down to eat her crepe in a more American manner.
Lisa sliced the remaining crepe into triangles with her fork, eating steadily, not making eye contact with the other customers, although she couldn’t help but overhear the couples, whose food had arrived by this point.
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere, they’re in each other all along.” The woman with the sun-dried tomato crepe – goat cheese version – recited the Rumi quote adorning the back wall. The quote provided a flourish to a mural that featured a sort of water goddess whose legs turned into trees rooting deep into the top half of planet Earth.
Lisa could hear the men exchange glances and she knew without looking that those glances carried the opposite message than the one the two women were likely exchanging. She smiled to herself as the last bite of lemon sugar butter dissolved on her tongue. Women were so predictable, as were men. What she wanted, what she longed for, what she looked for, was that place where all the learned behavior fell away. We have all emerged from the darkness, birthed from sea to cave to a place on land where we’re forever reaching for the sky and imagining some sort of other resides within, she thought as she set down enough cash to cover the check plus a 20 percent tip. The math annoyed her. She figured it was easier to just always leave too much. Not fiscally prudent, but fuck it, she was a poet, not a professor.

The waiter set the crepe in front of her, blue cheese crumbled onto apple slices so thin paper would ruffle with envy. “Anything else?” he asked. Black eyebrows framed eyes so blue that Sonia couldn’t speak. Instead she smiled and shook her head, turned her reddening face to her plate. The waiter faded to the next table, one where two couples sat facing each other, the women chatting and pointing at the menu as the men shifted in their seats saying nothing until the waiter asked if they were ready to order. Sonia pulled out her phone despite her earlier promise to herself to not be that woman sitting alone in a restaurant fiddling with her cell phone. Four more emails from students claiming confusion over the most recent assignment. Sonia skipped ahead to the fifth email, the one from Marcus asking if she was attending tomorrow’s brown bag lunch seminar on Motivating Millenials: A Guide to Today’s Generation. If you are, she thought. If you are and I can sit next to you and our legs will not quite touch and I’ll touch my hair too much and worry that I’m oversmiling every time you whisper some smartass comment in my ear. Her crepe arrived. This time Sonia didn’t blush, just said thank you as the waiter set her plate down. Her gaze wandered over the wall. She’d seen the mural a hundred times at this point, the creperie having captured her business years ago. The ocean goddess was hokey, she’d decided, and the whole tree-Earth thing contrived, but she couldn’t help but agree with Rumi’s observation that “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere, they’re in each other all along.” She had so much inside her, after all, and couldn’t wait to meet the person who manifested her best self in his own, preferably blue-eyed and slightly French, way.

On a birthday: regrets and reflections, belatedly

I’m in New York. Specifically, I’m in Brooklyn, folded into a comfy armchair. I refuse to move despite the sun’s upward shift causing moments of blindness when I lean back. Every so often I close my eyes for respite and realize I could slip back into sleep. A head cold has kept me up the last few nights and even the trucks chugging by every minute would not keep me from drifting off. This patch of sun inside is warm. The air outside hovers near freezing, one of the reasons I’m spending my birthday hunkered down and lazy.

I’m 44 today. How I’ve celebrated my birthdays this decade has varied. For my 40th birthday, I threw a big party at the Jambalaya. I heard it was fun, but an excessive number of vodka gimlets prevents me from remembering much – I have favorite blue dangly earrings from that night without a clue as to the gift-giver.

Turning 41 was both quieter and more profound. I was in Taiwan on my first international trip surrounded by people I didn’t know who spoke languages I do not speak. I’d never been gone from my family so long. The adventure excited me enough without an awkward, obligatory toast, so I kept my birthday tucked away. I’d think about it later, being 41 and discovering, as I circumnavigated the island, that I like myself. A few weeks ago I used my passport for the second time, a warm water surf vacation to Mexico. I wonder if I should have traveled more in my 20s – I mean, of course I should have, I always longed to explore, but imagining how that would have worked, three kids and no money, exceeds my ability to suspend disbelief.

I threw another big party at the Jam for my 42nd birthday. The evening culminated with Full Moon Fever performing all my favorite Tom Petty songs, a fine, fine time.

My 43rd was slightly more restrained – or was meant to be until the ATL put a “Happy Birthday” announcement on their marquee (a wonderful gesture that I’m sure marked the zenith of my popularity). What can I say? I like to go places and I like to celebrate and I’m good at throwing parties: these are three things I’ve learned in my life. Of course, I wish I’d learned some more useful skills, too – sewing, perhaps, or speaking Spanish. When modern society collapses, my only hope is convincing people to feed me now so I can plan the annual harvest celebration later. (“But, guys! We need to have something to look forward to now more than ever! Don’t let dystopia get you down! Look, I’ll pull together a party for all the survivors. It’ll be great! And, um, can I have some of those acorns?”)

Another talent I wish I’d acquired sooner: being good with money. If I’d arrived at adulthood armed with that knowledge, many of the pitfalls I encountered would have been inconveniences instead of catastrophes or could have been avoided altogether. (“Overdraft charges, late fees? What are those?”) But those of us with a reckless streak insist on learning the hard way how to conserve our resources: money, time, a willingness to love.

I would also have liked to have mastered the art of communicating feelings by now – something my family refrained from so strongly that I blanched even typing that – and been less quick to anger. I let frustration with my children manifest in yelling too many times, even spanking on occasion, despite a firm opposition to both. The number of times I lashed out at the kids due to other troubles – how to pay the water bill in time, the morning’s argument with my husband, exhaustion from working late, trying to find my way around a new town and being confused when H Street turned into Campton. We’d been in Humboldt all of nine days, desperate to find housing, and I was supposed to meet the property manager at a promising place, but the directions were to take H to Walnut, which didn’t make sense. This was pre-smartphone, so I had no way to pull over and get my bearings. My oldest complained about something and, already on the verge of panic, I lost my mind, screamed at her to shut up and lashed out with my hand. I wish that birthing a child into this world brought along an infusion of patience and grace, that those attributes had come in with the same abundance as my milk.

In Jess Walters’ book Beautiful Ruins, the theme of want – of the way “we want what we want” even when we claim otherwise due to obligations and a sense of what’s proper – runs through the novel. The closer what you want is to what is right, a main character’s mother tells him, the more likely you are to be happy. When the thing you desire is different than what’s ethically best, in other words, your odds shift in favor of misery. (And thus is the plot of a thousand movies launched.) When you’re married, when you have children, immediately much of your world is divided into right and wrong. And, as a mom, what is “right” is always the thing that requires the most self-sacrifice. At least it seems that way in the beginning.

But then comes the unavoidable truth that you still want the things you want: adventure, love, joy, friends, success, to embrace as much of the world’s offerings as possible. And sometimes you skip making pancakes because you’ve learned to surf at 30 after a lifetime of wanting to surf and this morning has brought the sort of small, clean swell perfect for you and the tide is now so you leave out the granola and milk and a note saying you’ll be back in time to take everyone to school, but the waves are so good that by the time you drag your exhausted self out of the ocean, you’re running late and when you get home, your family is in a world of stress and it’s your fault because you were selfish.

And sometimes wanting to surf takes other forms: working late because your career excites you in a way that doing laundry never will, taking college classes because you fear your brain is atrophying, social engagements with childless adults instead of planning school events with the PTA moms – you’ve volunteered, you have, you served nachos every Friday for an entire school year, and your appreciation for the tireless efforts of more dedicated mothers is tangible, but at some point you just want to talk film and literature and politics with people who get you, and so you give in, again, to that selfishness. But you are not quite happy because in the back of your mind, you are aware that the life you want is not exactly the life you have and try as you might to reconcile the two, there are times when you choose what you want over what is virtuous. Predictably, people are disappointed and the guilt you feel for letting down the people you love makes you regret, makes you wonder if you’ll ever figure out how to do life right.

But enough cataloging of regrets.

Here I am, lounging about in my brother’s apartment. I could have spent the money I’ve spent here on something more practical. I could have brought a kid with me for his continued cultural edification. I could refused my brother’s offer of a birthday ticket to New York and stayed home to care for my people, my house, eschewed vacation to get more work done. But I didn’t want to. I wanted some time alone, some time to lie on the couch, the ability to do what I wanted, go bowling or to a comedy club or the Tenement Museum, without arguing with anyone about it – a heretical state of mind for a wife and mother, to be sure. But typically my selfishness is mild, a pedicure here, a surfboard there, a penchant for cocktails.

Other, older, women tell you, as you’re turning 40, that your 40s will be “awesome!” (They say the same thing when you’re turning 30. Or 50.) For me, that’s been true. The past four years have been awesome. Partly because the older I get, the less patience I have for bullshit, and that will improve anyone’s life. Partly for all the reasons earlier decades were good: children relatively healthy, living close to the beach, a slew of solid friends. But mostly because I’ve had a job that not only challenged and rewarded me, but pays enough that I can cover the bills, donate to some causes, treat folks to dinner once in a while, take a trip on occasion and afford to do validating work as a freelancer. Good job and good friends equal happiness in my world. And that kind of happiness equals confidence. And confidence is sexy! So yeah, my 40s have definitely been a sexy time — just like those other, older, women said they would!

All this reflection! I sound like I’ve turned 94 instead of 44. Quickly, some things I do not regret: saying yes to life, cultivating the best possible friends, dedicating the majority of my adult life thus far to my family. Having a dog. Moving to Humboldt. Striving, repeatedly, to be kind, to be kind, to be kind.

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