surf sessions #22, #23, #24, #25, #26


I think next year I’ll return to noting these on a wall calendar as I do want to tally my time, but am running out of ways in which to write about what a particular surf was like without resorting to the same descriptions as before – truly, the words were all used up a while ago.

In brief:

#22: Fun. Lefts. A few too many people in the takeoff zone.

#23: Even more fun. Fewer people in the takeoff zone. Lefts.

#24: I take the 6’2″ out in front of my house. Blackberry vines and coyote brush stretch across the trail. One bend narrows to less than a foot wide, eroding on one side into a shrub-filled valley. Stickers wedge between my feet and sandals. I stop several times to remove them. But the ocean stretches out glass when I trundle over the final dune. The waves are small until they hit the sandbar, where they jack up into head-high shorepound. I’m challenged. This board is beautiful, paddles well, but so much smaller than what I’m used to. When I stand up, my back foot wonders where to land. I fall down. Sometimes I don’t. The sun sets. Even without the glowing orange sky, the beauty of being on the edge of the world, the taste of salt on my lips and the caress of the waves would have made the trek worthwhile. I have never become a better surfer by standing on the sand; I will never learn to ride this board if unwilling to wipe out trying. I stride home, beating the dark.

#25: I paddle out with a friend at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. It’s micro – my hair doesn’t even get wet and I’m on the outside. This is an unfamiliar Ocean Beach, a welcome respite from the usual effort the place demands. I’m on a borrowed 7’4″ that works like magic. I want a new board, I think. Like this. I need a new board like this. My 7’6″ is slow and and the 7’5″ is battered and I am due for a new board that paddles well and responds quickly and whose deck is unmarred by patch jobs. Not that I can afford such a thing at the moment. I have been spending my money wrong, I realize (again). I have been spending my time wrong. Why do I do anything other than take every extra minute of my day paddling around and catching waves? Especially when the conditions are so very sweet and easy like this? My friend had only time for a quick surf – he had to get to an appointment. When he mentioned that as we were changing into our wetsuits in his garage, I said, “No problem! I have a lot to do anyway.” After half an hour, when he had to go and he said I could stay out with his board as long as I wanted, I said, “Yes. Yes. Thank you.” And I stayed out until my arms and knees said, “Enough!” and then I went in, grinning and laughing because the day was so beautiful.

#26: Back home, back to the lefts, back to a knot of people angling for position. But everyone took turns and so some of the bumpy, bowly waves were mine. I happened to be nicely placed when a set came and paddled into a wave late, made it – a 21-year-old complimented me on my “sick drop,” which is not a thing I normally hear, so – bonus! After riding a wave till its conclusion, I noticed a beginner paddling and paddling in the triangle of doom. “Are you trying to get in or out?” I asked him. “I’m trying to catch a wave,” he said. I explained he needed to paddle parallel away from the jetty or he’d end up in the channel. He thanked me and angled in that direction. This thing people do – put themselves in the ocean without understanding – frustrates me. I stifled my further desire to advise him, but kept a bit of an eye out in case he needed help. By the time I went in, he’d given up, gotten out. I drove home.



And into the wilderness we go...

And into the wilderness we go…

This was a trip of firsts: first time backpacking, first time in the upper reaches of the Trinity Alps, first time passing by a waterfall while being pelted by a thunderstorm, first time swimming in an alpine lake.

Under normal circumstances, a two-mile hike would have passed quickly. With a backpack weighted down with a too-heavy tent better suited for car camping, I found myself playing mental games to stave off collapse. For a while I counted every hundred steps, then allowed myself 5 seconds of rest. I counted every 25 and switched my water bottle to the other hand. I took photos of the trail every 200 steps, envisioning a post-adventure visual project, time-lapse-style, in which I could show people what hiking in looked like – but I had to abandon that dream when, two-thirds of the way in, the sky flung hail-sized raindrops at us. I called out to my friend Shaun, way ahead on the trail, to help me put my camera away.

In the midst of wincing at the pressure the backpack put on my hips, the heft of it hammering at my knee caps with each step, I thought about my friend Scott and his son Owen, 10-year-old Owen, who had just died in an ATV accident while visiting grandparents. I’d caught the news on Facebook and had to re-read the words many times before my unwilling brain would accept the fact of what it was seeing.

The outpour of love, support and grief in the comments included many variations asserting the unthinkability of such a tragedy. Unfathomable. Unimaginable. Beyond comprehension. And yet, the horrifying part is how easily it is imagined, like how one can picture falling when standing on the edge of a cliff – but the difference between toppling over and not is everything. And the truly horrifying part exists in that distinction.

This weight on my back is nothing. The clouds recede. We reach the lake.

One of our many lakes.

One of our many lakes.

The view overwhelms, blue sky reflected in blue lake, wildflowers in purple, yellow and white dotting the surrounding green meadow, giving way to spruce and pine that climb up red-brown walls to the blue sky the lake shimmers beneath. We rest for a moment, scout campsites. The guys determine we should move to the upper lakes. I curse them as I struggle back into my backpack. The rain returns.

We huddle under a tree. I haven’t been in warm rain since I lived in the desert, no, since visiting Taiwan, no – wait. New York in the spring of 2010. That was not warm like this, however, where the thin air dries the thin layer of clothing in minutes, even as the rain continues to fall.

Eventually the clouds move off to the next valley and we set up, eat, watch the sunset, share whiskey. I fall in love with this experience even as I struggle, oh so slightly, with being out of range. Emergency scenarios hover. I shove them to the edge of my mind and the less avoidable guilt moves in. I hope my children are okay. I wonder if making up for the mistakes I made raising them is possible – or if history exists in stone, unable to be challenged or rewritten. But no one past exists, only multiple stories, so maybe hope for a better edit isn’t undue.

I wish I’d been more patient, less angry. Not placed as much value on keeping up appearances as a reaction to poverty and the judgment of others. I would like to retroactively assure them they were always loved, always, even when, exhausted, I was losing my shit. If nothing else, I would write more harmony into the narrative, weave an unbreakable thread through their lives to spare them the worry I never meant to put them through.

What kind of mother I was, am, is an impossibly subjective exercise. I definitely yelled too much. I absolutely did not know what I was doing for much of it and only at some recent point emerged from that uncharted territory blinking into the sunlight. But I fed them along the way. Very well, even. And they were read to and exposed to beauty of many sorts. We had river days and beach days and cozy nights in front of the fire and movies. Those things I know.


On top of the world.

On top of the world.

The rock upon which I sit is rough through my sarong. The sun has risen over the ridge, illuminating the cirque and warming me despite the breeze.

Mike convinced me to accompany him to the top of the ridge, where the Pacific Crest Trail passes by. When I reached the top, the view resulted in a literal taking of my breath. Photographers and painters have an advantage over writers in times like these.

Back below, I walked through grasses that tickled my calves, between purple daisies, yellow and pink flowers whose names I will have to ask a botanist when I get back. Three lakes lie within the meadow and I found a spot under a spruce by the largest. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled. Rocks remained frozen mid-tumble along the steep wall of the bowl. I stretched out on my towel, legs in the sun, back in the shade and read, losing myself in my book save for the occasional ant crawling up my arm. Bees buzzed.

After a while, I shifted to a rock, situating myself in a broken part that formed a natural chair. Ripples spread across the lake. The breeze also blew in cumulus clouds, puffy white things hurrying across the sky, shadows moving over me as I sit watching.


And into the wilderness we go.

Hello, chipmunk!


Dark-eyed junko

I want to know the types of trees, flowers, birds, rocks. I wonder how different the future would be if nature was a core school experience on par with math and English. Would our treatment of the environment change and how quickly?

I’ve been cultivating more outdoors into my life, surfing again, biking, making time for the river and now this. The calm, the bigness, provides space in my brain for creativity – ideas swell. Outside is the antidote to my usual state of stress, provides the perspective helping to manage my responsibilities, reminds me who I am and who I want to be. Ants keep crawling on me and I don’t mind. I am grateful for everything.

lake near sunset

surf sessions #17, #18, #19, #20, #21

Five times in seven days and I remember this was the life I wanted.


Thoughts prompted:

Oh, this is fun.

I should probably sell my car. Do you know how many boards and board bags and trips I could take if I didn’t have car payments?


Seriously, I need to reconfigure my life.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.


The ocean glassed out for a solid week. The waves were small, mostly only about shoulder-high on the sets, tiny on the final session of this bliss streak. The ocean floor glittered, bait fish leapt, pelicans dove, seals popped their heads out like ocean labradors waiting for an ear to be scritched. (Don’t actually pet the seals.)


Of those five days, the highlights:

A morning surfing my favorite break with just a few friends while it worked like the magic carousel it occasionally can be.


Walking out from my house with my 2013 birthday board tucked under my arm and catching waves in front of my house.

The photo Bobby took from that session of me wiping out; I’d pearled badly and he caught me upside out, legs sticking up out of the top of the breaking wave like a sad cartoon.

Reliving a magical July from eight years ago, when the ocean stayed small and glassy for an even longer chunk of time and we took the Nick and Kaylee out almost daily. They were little then, eight and 10, just learning to surf, and giddy with the delight of it. I would have surfed elsewhere this day, but a friend called, saying his own 8-year-old wanted to go surfing and where should they go? I thought about it, what the swell had been doing, how the bar was working, and said, You know, I think this spot could work. No promises. It could be flat. And it’ll almost definitely be too small for adults.

I did them right. When I showed up, they were already suited – her in Kaylee’s hand-me-down wetsuit – and in the water, knee-high waves peeling left and right through the ocean smooth as a lake. I grabbed my camera and skipped out to water’s edge just as my friend pushed his daughter into one of those bitty swells. She clambered to her feet, thrust her arms out and rode down the line, grinned etched on her face, as my friend whooped and I shot photos (“Ah! I’m capturing this for them, yes!) and a surfer parked on the beach honked in enthusiasm. Everything was as it should be in the world for a few fine moments.

Stoke, exemplified.

Stoke, exemplified.

And then it stayed fine. I joined my friends in the water (at an all-time high of 61 degrees) and the waves were almost definitely too small, but had just enough to them for us adult types to goof around. I noticed two boys playing up the beach slightly while their folks sat on the beach next to a parked quad and a BBQ. I told them about the couple extra boards in the back of my truck. “You can grab them if you want.” They wanted. The younger caught whitewater on his belly, the older tried to stand up, they held on to those boards for at least an hour, their fun made exponential. When I emerged from the ocean and returned to my truck, they ran over to thank me. They were from Redding, they said, where there’s no ocean.

My heart brimmed with joy from this day. I swear, I didn’t even need the 4WD as I drove away – my lightness of spirit lifted my truck right off the sand as we made our way off the beach.

And I remember this is the life I have.


on politeness and the fallacy of political correctness

In other news, I wrote about intent vs impact a while back, which prompted this response from someone I know:

The only reservation I would have about what you had to say, there, is that I fear “politeness”…
Seems innocuous enough, politeness.
But we don’t love our friends because they BEHAVE

Which I interpreted to mean that if people are too on guard, afraid of offending, friendship suffers; if you can’t be “real” with someone, how can you truly connect? Sometimes people are afraid of debate, turning disagreement with someone’s ideas into labeling that person as inherently disagreeable.

I’m quite possibly wrong in my interpretation, and, of course, being a woman, I felt compelled to point out that girls know better than anyone the pitfalls of politeness. If you are raised to be “polite,” the parallel consequence is, standing up for yourself feels “rude,” which means you can be taken advantage of. People that grew up able to speak their mind don’t understand how the trained among us might find ourselves wordless in the face of abuse, but that is what happens; the cop who hassles you unfairly, the guy who shoves his hands onto your body, the boss who demeans you – if you’ve been discouraged from making others feel uncomfortable, you learn to absorb the discomfort yourself.

But that’s definitely not what my colleague meant, so let’s step back and address politeness between friends. I believe in the higher principle of etiquette; making others feel at ease is a good thing. Being able to assess a situation and respond accordingly is a skill of the highest order. Don’t confront someone at a wedding, for example. Talk to the person who looks lonely. Arrange your face into a sympathetic visage when the child in front of you breaks down into the tantrum to end all tantrums and the mother is helpless in the face of it – if you have children, you know how insane they can be, and if you don’t, revel that you’ll never have to know. In either case, the high road is the right road.

But again, I digress. Who are we with our friends? That, I suppose is the question. And yet still, I tend to err on the side of being polite. I love my friends. They matter to me as much as clean air, drinkable water and windless, sunshiney days. I know that friendship means accepting people when they are less than their best and in return, the same people continue to love you despite your insecurities, flaws, ridiculous drinking habits, but still – if someone loves me so much to tolerate my endless texts about the same tiresome problems, wouldn’t I want to return the favor by being kind, thoughtful? Take our interactions as an opportunity to reenforce how much I value and respect them?

Politeness that results in timidity? Bad.

Politeness as a way of being a functioning, compassionate human? Good.

Maybe it’s all semantics.

Which leads me to the concept of “political correctness.” First, I thought we were done with that term – it seems outdated, a way for the politically conservative to reduce new and important conversations about race and gender to eye-rolling – but then a friend posted a link to a column in which several comedians decried political correctness as “killing comedy.”

I think what’s killing their comedy is a refusal to evolve. Robin Tran wrote a response in xoJane that reflects my own thoughts:

I know lots of comedy fans who are just yearning for something new and different, and they’re tired of hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes. There are only so many times you can hear jokes about black people stealing, Asians’ inability to drive, and heteronormative dating jokes where “women do this but men do that” before it gets exhausting, boring, and unfunny. These comedy fans are generally progressive-leaning, and they’re oftentimes unfairly accused of being humorless.

Many progressives love Inside Amy Schumer, a show that is not “PC” at all, and more liberal-leaning websites are constantly posting articles about what a genius Louis CK is. A few of these liberal comedy fans may take some jokes too personally, but to brush this entire group as humorless and PC is dishonest and lazy.

I could go on, but I need to hit the road and besides, funnier and smarter people are already on this one, so let me leave you with a clip from one of my comedy heroes, Aziz Ansari:

surf sessions #15, #16

wetsuit in the tree = good

wetsuit in the tree = good

#15: Oh, man, the waves were terrible. Seriously. If not the worst I’ve paddled out into, at least close. But I hadn’t surfed in weeks and the air was 68 degrees and the sun was baking the peninsula and I said I’m going. I’m going no matter what. So I did. And it was wonderful. I mean, it was terrible, the waves part, but being in the ocean, paddling, getting smacked around by overhead closeouts – I was reminded of how stupid fun being in the ocean can be. Even when the waves are terrible. The post-session bliss lingered for hours.

#16: I took out a friend who wants to learn to surf, got my truck stuck for a minute while trying to show him around – embarrassing – decided that was probably as valid a reason to choose the spot we were at as any. Waist-high peaks looked inviting. Unfortunately they lacked enough energy at first to make catching them easy. As the tide filled in, however, a nice little (and I do mean little) right started to corner up. I hopped on the carousel and smiled in the sunshine. My friend paddled around, caught some whitewater, practiced standing, practiced reading the ocean – the latter, I explained to him afterwards, is key. Seeing the currents, the peaks, gaining an understanding of how it all works, knowing conditions can change on a dime so that everything you think you know is accurate one second and wrong the next – that’s the head part of surfing. Once you begin to grasp that, you find yourself better able to feed your soul.

all the advice I have to give

2015-06-24 13.47.58

I do a lot. People are always telling me that. It’s true, I do more things than some people. But also that I do much less than others – I think of my friends who work in more demanding fields, or who run their own businesses and simultaneously volunteer a zillion hours at their children’s schools. I think of the people who are on the ground in parts of the world desperately needing to be made better.

The things I do? Largely fun. Mostly rewarding. I have one job that involves creating ways to inspire others to care about the ocean. I have another that consists of writing about music, Humboldt County and mostly anything else I want. I have a semi-regular column offering unasked-for advice! Sometimes they send me to movies. Yesterday I spent seven hours on the Trinity for readers of a future Get Out column. Taking the day off from my regular gig means making up the hours by working early, late and weekends, but the warmth, the sunshine, the waterfall, the wildlife, the occasional rush of ricocheting through the rapids was easily worth it.

I needed it, especially the part about being out of cell service for several hours. Because I have been doing a lot, to the extent that I haven’t disconnected enough and that when I’m engaged in something my brain is thinking of the other things I need to do – you know when you go to visit somewhere you used to live and everyone wants to see you, so you find yourself scheduling in time with way too many people and each social moment becomes compromised because you’re worried about getting to the next one? Like that. Don’t live like this.

When we first moved to Humboldt in 1998, I’d envisioned a more homesteady life. We’d be those people who grow vegetables in our backyard and then put them in jars. Our resourcefulness would provide us a fine life. We’d build and sew and make art and being broke wouldn’t diminish our happiness.

And then a few things happened.

I started surfing, which meant a few hours of each day dedicated to scoring waves. Factor that in with the raising of three children, attending school full-time, working part-time and writing, and something had to give. “Look, if it’s between yanking weeds in the garden or going surfing, I’m going surfing,” I told my (poor, beleaguered) husband.

I also realized that all these Humboldt people whose lifestyles I was trying to emulate were only able to have those lifestyles because they were growing pot – yes, I was naive. I mean, I knew pot was a thing here, but I had no concept of the enormity of the economics or that it was a thing everyone did. For a while, I thought I was just really bad at managing my own money because all the other young parents and students had such nice things, all quality tools and stylish hemp clothes – and they took amazing vacations. The reality turned out to be simply that we needed to make more money and that meant working more.

So I gravitated toward what I’m good at: entertaining people, creating events and the very non-sexy sounding strength of working on political, environmental and social justice issues through writing and organization. These are the opposite of a quiet life at home. Also not very useful skills when civilization collapses; I will be among the first eaten, I am sure.

It must be this new chapter in my life that prompts such assessing of it lately. I’ve always tried to live, as they say, an examined one, but with the kids grown and moved out, and my work life both precarious and expanding, making note of what’s been successful and what hasn’t helps in looking forward. Seeing the path in hindsight affirms my faith that working hard and generally not being an asshole pays off, even if the how, when and where reside in an as-yet-undetermined future.

Trajectories are not always straightforward. I was a wild teenager with no interest in marriage or kids. A few years later, I was a committed mother and saying “I do” to the man I’m still with over two decades later. Who could have foretold? At 21, I started cocktailing in a live music club, which led to a bartending job at another place with bands and thus an ever expanding circle of people in that world, which meant I was prepared to write about it all when the Arcata Eye needed a scene editor, and that job grew to include writing about environmental issues, which grew my circle of contacts, which meant when Ocean Conservancy arrived in town looking for someone to hire, my name came up, which meant I was able to experience an amazing, life-changing job, which enabled me to get hired on at the NEC after my OC program ended – this was not a predictable path. And, with simultaneously trying to be a good mom and wife, the long phase of struggling financially, not an easy one. Never a coal mine, yet I do not want to discount the efforts I put into keeping everything afloat.

All of which comes down to trying to have an answer when people ask, “How do you do it?” I wish I had a snappy response, something profound or, if I can’t be profound, at least something witty. (“Start out rich! Much easier!”) But all my advice is the usual: work really fucking hard, make friends with good people, love your people, be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to change directions if something isn’t proving constructive, seek practical solutions, assert your value, never get caught up in your own hype, cross your fingers, hold on.

Oh, and this: As often as possible, walk away from all the screens into the forest, ocean, river, whatever fills you back up. That, do that.

The Reluctant Cyclist: pedal to the meta

Between Mad River Slough Bridge and Jackson Ranch Road. A moment later, a loaded Fox Farm truck passed me, tires on the line.

Between Mad River Slough Bridge and Jackson Ranch Road. A moment later, a loaded Fox Farm truck passed me, tires on the line.

It’s not that I dislike riding a bike. Give me a sunny, 62-degree, windless day and a mostly flat terrain through gorgeous scenery on a car-less path and I like it just fine. But commuting to work involves riding on faith that the cars and trucks whooshing by at 60mph-plus won’t smash me. Add fighting the wind and the extra time and inconvenience, and it’s obvious why, despite acquiring a bicycle expressly for this purpose eight years ago, I’ve never consistently commuted.

And yet, as they say, the despair is not in falling, but only in falling and failing to rise again. Like the proverbial phoenix, I shall pump up my tires, pack my panniers and fly down the highway. “I’m aiming for twice a week!” I announced to an officemate. She looked at me, thought for a moment. “That might be a lot,” she said. “Maybe once per week?”

Apparently I’m not fooling anyone.

It doesn’t help that I can’t fix a damn thing on my bike. One time I had a flat and spent two hours on Facebook and YouTube getting advice on how to fix it. Finally, I thought I’d succeeded only to watch the tire deflate the second I hopped on. That’s when I told myself, “There are people who enjoy fixing bikes. Why are you depriving them of that pleasure?” I then put the bike in the truck, drove to Revolution, flung my bicycle at them and burst into tears.

Then there was the time my chain wouldn’t work and I left my bike in the common space of the office building – a building full of bike geeks – with a note, “Help me.” (It worked.)

Pathetic! I know. Nonetheless, I still have a bike and a helmet and two panniers, and here we are with long days and lessening winds and really, I have few excuses – the lack of a safe route being the most legitimate. So off I went this morning, once again, hoping to up my eco-groovy game, say hello to the various creatures along the way, and hang on to some semblance of fitness.

I left bed at 6:30 a.m. An hour later, I pedaled away, panniers loaded to the gills:

Just everything I need for an average workday...

Just everything I need for an average workday…

towel and shower supplies;
work shoes, clothes and make up;
lunch (tuna salad sammie, yogurt);
gym shoes and clothes for after work

I packed lighter when I went to Mexico for a week.

A few blocks down the highway, I realized I’d forgotten to turn on my Strava app. Now my ride would appear shorter than it actually was. I’m already a wimp – I can’t afford to lose a foot. But I turned it on, pedaled into the wind, dodged the smashed up car that’s been abandoned on the shoulder, thought for the hundredth time how nice it would be to have a dedicated bike route, gasped as a Fox Farm truck blasted by on the skinniest section between the Mad River Slough and Jackson Ranch Road, tires on the line between me and it, a line that signifies life and death to a cyclist, bounced over potholes through the Bottoms, stopped breathing while passing a dead skunk, smiled to see those little bright yellow birds, the only relief from the otherwise gray-muted tones of the world, arrived at work. Talked bikes in the community shower room. (“Corn starch is amazing for your genitals” was the takeaway.) Launched into the work day.

My two goals, every time I commute, are: 1.) Don’t die; 2.) Remember everything. So far, so good.

1. People say they eschew the safety corridor in favor of bisecting Manila because it's so much prettier. 2. Really, this?

1. People say they eschew the safety corridor in favor of bisecting Manila because it’s so much prettier. 2. Really, this?

Historical reference
The bike-to-work plan – “Because I want this to be a permanent lifestyle change…”
Active Transportation Adventure #1 – “I looked at the bus driver with a “Help!” look on my face…”
Active Transportation Adventure #2 – “I kept imagining myself on the uphill climb, helplessly slowing down and unable to get my feet loose, at which point I’d topple into traffic and get my head squished by a passing semi…”
Active Transportation Adventure #3 – “Not that I’m exactly an ‘average’ working person…”
Active Transportation Adventure #4 – “Sure, a banana slug still probably keeps a better pace than I do…”
Active Transportation Adventure #5 – “I try to read, but the combination of hangover and crowded, swaying bus provokes such nausea that I have to put my book away. I want to drop my head into my lap…”
Active Transportation Adventure #6 – “The sensation that occurs when riding over the bridges has changed from fear to exhilaration…”
20 Steps to Bike Commuting for the First Time in Months
Manila to Arcata bus commute: Worth it?

Ramblin’ Jack Durham offers offers beginning bike commuters much solid advice
More better biking (North Coast Journal) in which I offer advice of my own
Biking on Bridges: Why Can’t Humboldt Get Non-Motorized Transportation Right? (Lost Coast Outpost), a comparison of biking over the Samoa bridges vs the Brooklyn Bridge

an interview with a childless woman who wrote a book

“Thanks for being on the show today!”

“Thank you for having me.”

“So we’re here today to talk about your new book, Rustling Leaves and Other Stories.”

“Yes, it’s quite exciting.”

“Let’s start with the obvious question, the one on everyone’s mind. How did you balance writing a book with your family life?”

“Um, well, I don’t have children.”

“You don’t have children?”


“Hmmm… So how was it to write a book like that?”

“A book like – I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“How was it to write a book without a family?”

“Um, hard? Great? Easier?”

“OK, so you don’t have children – ”


” – so were you worried about that?”

“About not having children?”

“Yes. Did you feel pressured to get your book done in time, clock ticking, all that sort of thing?”

“Well, not exactly – ”

“So you do want children, then?”

“No! I mean, I like children – ”

“You just don’t want any?”

“I don’t – I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Because you’ve been writing your book.”


“Well, looks like we’re out of time – it’s been great talking with you! That was ________, author of Rustling Leaves and Other Stories, her fourth collection of short stories. But no children! What’s that like?”


surf session #14; intent does not mitigate impact

impact > intent

impact > intent (file photo)

It was exactly the way I like it: a user-friendly, uncrowded wave machine. I caught many, I fell off none. I want a hundred more days like that, please. Wait – I did wipe out once. Oh, yeah. Late takeoff, thought I’d made it, pressing my weight into the tail to keep from pearling – well, that was my intent. But my timing was off and the nose caught and wham! I tumbled off the board into the impact zone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between what we mean to have happen and what actually happens.

When the action at hand is physical, the gulf between intent and impact is obvious, and it’s the latter we judge success or failure by.

But when it comes to words, people often emphasize intention as a way to minimize or excuse effect: “I didn’t mean – .”

This comes up in online conversations about sexism and racism, but I hadn’t thought about how intent/impact work in interpersonal relationships until the subject came up in a communication workshop a couple months ago and smacked me in that hard way sometimes obvious truths do.

Because I’ve definitely been guilty of saying something that turns out to be hurtful to someone else and, instead of apologizing, pulled out the “That’s not at all what I intended” defense. Lots of people do this. I’ve also been on the other side, trying to explain how what someone did caused me grief, only to be told, “Only a jerk would intend to hurt you. I’m not a jerk. So if you’re hurt, that’s not my fault.”

Of course this is how we react – we’re all, as my friend would say, the protagonists in our own stories. I definitely prefer the narrative in which I am a kind person who would never thoughtlessly wound another person. So if someone offers evidence to the contrary, what am I supposed to do? Accept that I might have actually been selfish, uncaring, malicious, etc.? I think not!

The problem with this self-defensive approach is: 1.) it keeps the conversation all about me instead of the person who is hurting; 2.) it ignores the actual effect.

Uncomfortable admission: I was recently called out on this.  A while back, several of us were standing around chatting in the bar and a friend of mine mentioned a friend of hers that I’d recently had a bad professional experience with. “Oh, that guy,” I steamrolled in, “I’m not happy with him, no, not happy at all.” I complained for another minute – or two or five – wrapping up with a shake of my head and a sigh. From my point of view, just some reactive and reasonable venting. From hers, I’d embarrassed her by directing my animosity in her direction in front of everyone else.

I truly did not mean to upset her. But she truly was upset, as she let me know a few weeks later when we happened to see each other passing on the street. I felt terrible. I should have immediately said, “Wow, I am so sorry that I behaved in a way that caused you to feel bad.” I should have acknowledged that my ranting was inappropriate. Eventually I apologized properly, but my first reaction was the “Sorry, but I didn’t mean – ” approach.

And I have been on the other side, wanting an apology, wanting things to be made right, and the conversation ricochets around to how can I take things so opposite of how they’re intended? It’s tough to defend yourself against accusations of being too sensitive – how does one respond to, “You’re so easily offended?” without either negating one’s own feelings or validating the accuser? I don’t know. I’m good at self-reflection and lousy at fighting, so I always lose the argument.

But I think about it like this: If we were to barrel around a corner and crash into another person, knocking them to the ground, for most of us, the instinctive response would be, “Oh! Sorry! Are you okay?” Is it really such a stretch to do the same when we inadvertently hurt someone with our words or notice our actions have consequences we didn’t expect?

It shouldn’t be. And maybe the next time, we’ll be better about watching where we’re going.

Manila to Arcata bus commute: worth it?

At least the bus stop has a poetry board.

At least the bus stop has a poetry board.

Several weeks ago I rode my bike to work in what was supposed to be the start of a regular thing. But then friends wanted us to meet them at Richard’s Goat that evening and one thing led to another and then it was dark, so my husband gave me a lift in the car. My bike has patiently sat in the office building since. (Sorry, Bike to Work Month!)

Today, inspired once again, I took the bus to Arcata so that I would be forced to ride my bike home. I take the bus maybe a few times a year at most; my $10 pass lasted from 2013 to last month, when I gave it to my daughter, so I was clueless to the current fare. Good thing I’d shoved some bills into my pocket, because the handful of quarters I’d grabbed wasn’t nearly enough. When the driver asked for $3, my proverbial jaw dropped – to drive the 5.5 miles at $4 per gallon costs me about 64 cents based on my car’s average of 34 mpg.

If I bought a monthly pass for $59, that’s still more than double the $28 the gas would cost. Plus my car gets me to the office door, whereas the nearest bus stop is half a mile away.

If one factors in the entire cost of car ownership (insurance, registration, maintenance, car payment) then yes, eschewing a personal auto in favor of bus riding seems brilliant – until considering the infrequency of bus service to the peninsula. The Redwood Transit System includes only five stops in 13 hours. I suppose I could just leave the house less, but let’s be real. Even if I bussed to work five times per week, I’d need a car for everything else.

I realize none of this is a new or previously unnoticed reality, but experiencing it this morning made me sad because I’m a fan, in principle, of public transit and for those of us who have a choice, public transit is too expensive and inconvenient to make the switch. For the folks who don’t – ouch – and as soon as they do, they’ll likely opt out. This keeps the public transport option in an ineffective and marginalized zone.

The bicycle, now that’s a fine and cost-effective option. Except for the lack of an adequately safe route from the spit to town…


But I’m aiming for twice a week via bike. It’s summer. It should be doable. And I’ll save $2.54 on gas – almost enough for one-way bus fare.

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