long time gone

Philadelphia is like a foreign city to me now, easing off the turnpike and snaking around six-eleven, sprawling in all directions away from our speeding borrowed car. There are unfamiliar murals and people dressed like in magazines – wide belts, slim skirts, business dresses – not like Portland, and hardly any trace of the seventeen years I spent here, the full first seventeen years of my life, less the first five months and some summers in Maine. Nothing reminds me of a place I ever knew. Even in my parents’ wide low house I don’t speak the language.

My father serves as tourguide from the driver’s seat, for the benefit of the AD and his daughter, but I think I’m the only one who is really taking it in. I note for the first time the number of unique children’s attractions here and I wonder – alarmingly, despairingly – if I will have enough visits to show them all to my son. If I will be able to see the Please Touch Museum and the Franklin Institute and Sesame Place again, as a grown-up.

The heat here is oppressive. The air is thick and unsatisfying in my lungs. I blame it for my impatience and my suddenly absent kindness. It explains to me why my parents don’t know their neighbors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. Longer probably than I’ve ever gone before. I have a baby now and a partner and a house and a full time job, and when I have a chance to entertain a personal indulgence, blogging isn’t it. But in its absence the weekend behind me seems to sit in my gut unprocessed: the wedding of a marriage-hating friend, the pollen-covered Susquehanna River, my soon-to-be-stepdaughter doing headstands in my mother’s pool. It weighs me down and confounds me. I don’t know how else to hold on to it or how else to let it go.



The mannequins on Fifth Avenue are wearing party dresses. One day they were helter skelter, naked and sideways in their windows, no clothes or even arms to keep them warm. But now they’re back upright again in sequins and feathers and silvery drapes, holding tiny little glittering boxes. I admire resilience.

It’s pretty cold in Portland right now. Everyone is hiding inside, and even the morning commute seems to have vanished. Not even lingering street kids with pit bulls. Not even corner canvassers for Greenpeace.

The women in my office building, lawyers mostly, are still in pointy heels and black stockings and skirts much shorter than what I remember from my dad’s law office in the eighties, but now they have black coats with trim, and coordinated hats and mittens. I don’t have a coat that will fit around me anymore so I’m mostly layering sweaters and anything else that covers my belly. Staying true to my hippier days in Eugene.

This morning when I opened my Outlook a reminder popped up that I must have put in months back saying Thirty Days To Go and there you have it, plus or minus. In the mean time we are hanging lights, and painting walls, and wondering. What will it be like after this winter arrival?


thinking about you, maryann

There’s a new room in my basement, because it’s now our basement, because the AD moved in at long last. Now there are boxes in the garage. Now there are at least six toothbrushes. My old housemate Emily has moved on to a space of her own. Some nights the AD’s daughter is with us, and suddenly I’m aware of the cracking walls and the lack of shelves.

Camping out in a construction zone is all well and good for a girl going it solo, but it’s hardly the setting for a family. For some reason I always thought that when that transition took place it would take its time. Time enough to call the drywallers. Time enough to paint.

So now there is a room downstairs, but there is also a room upstairs – the back bedroom once reserved for a renter, soon to be home of a bunkbed. And even though there is a woodstove and even, unlike last winter, wood, there is still no insulation, there are still windows with noticeable missing parts. I wonder how this happens. Once your life requires sound walls, that life itself takes up all the time you might otherwise use to build them. Mystery.

Did I mention we’re having a baby? I guess most of you knew that already. We don’t do things one at a time around here. We’ve found that with one-at-a-time you can only fit one lifetime into one lifetime. This way we were able to do the whole Lost And Alone In Portland thing, the whole Crisis of Self Confidence And Subsequent Fling With A Loser thing, the whole Hippie House thing, the whole Kickass Barista thing, the whole Heart Broken By A Self Absorbed Artist thing, the whole Finally Getting Ones Shit Together thing, and still have room for the Two Kids Three Bedroom House With Potted Plants thing, all since the (bitter, bitter) end of 2006. The downside being that when you try to do everything at once you might get a little sloppy. One of the bedrooms might have no ceiling. There might not be an oven.

I think it’s going to start raining soon, and it’s not going to stop. Good thing I bought two new umbrellas. Isn’t it marvelous?


some time later

The gingko leaves are still green but it’s feeling like fall already, and any day now I suspect the air will begin to smell of woodsmoke. I feel a little like a hot cider and a gentle book and a chair by the ocean. I feel like feeling safe.

There’s a little beanbag frog who lives on my desk, and I’ve sat him over the blinking light on my phone so that I don’t have to see there’s a voicemail. I don’t feel like answering questions. I’d rather just let the temperature drop around me, and watch the days grow shorter, and enjoy the change.

This morning a young woman walking in front of me in the park turned around when she heard my heels clicking quickly against the path. Everyone is running this morning, she said. I feel like I’m missing something. She was carrying a gallon of milk.

And I wanted to make an offer: trade me today. I will have a slow day listening to leaves and drinking milk, and you can go see what you’re missing.

I love the fall for how vivid it feels, for how peaceful it is and for how there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I think most of us would stop it if we could and it would be a terrible loss.


sooner or later

The original plan was to have an electrician come a year ago – but there were a lot of house-related Original Plans that didn’t quite come to pass on schedule. In any case he’s there right now as I write this. He is installing outlets and re-routing wires so that by the weekend there will be smoke detectors and a bathroom fan and places to plug things in. The bedroom lightswitch will no longer be in the dining room. Marvelous.

I was also supposed to make reservations several months ago for a conference I’m attending in Seattle in four weeks. I finally got around to it this morning, and it turns out that several of the area hotels are running specials. So instead of staying at the conference hotel, full of conference participants and twenty dollar a day internet, I’m staying down the street at a five star place for six dollars less per day. It has one of those workout rooms where the treadmills have personal televisions. There is a lesson here about procrastination, but probably one you should ignore.

Did I mention that I was also in charge of getting firewood for the far away winter? It’s cheap in spring and then gets more expensive each month until fall, and then sometimes you can’t find any at all. I wrote down numbers from Craigslist half a dozen times and never called a single one. Then last week my coworker told me he was cutting down some trees, and two cords were mine for the taking. The thick rounds are drying in my drive.

Similarly procrastinated with fruitful results was the booking of the trip the AD and I were hoping to take in September. We couldn’t decide on location and then we couldn’t decide on dates, and with each week that passed it seemed less likely our frequent flier tickets would still be available. And then on Monday the tickets we had looked at over and over inexplicably dropped in price, and we picked up a pair of seats to Buenos Aires for less than ninety thousand miles. Buenos Aires!

And this is my summer so far: one unexpected, poorly planned success after another, a string of unrequested gifts out of nowhere, ever since the rain stopped. My tomatoe plants are bursting with tiny tomatoes, my friend is on her way north from Los Angeles to see me, and in October a Portland theater company is doing Stephen Sondheim. I am not waiting for anything.



I still feel bad from time to time about the directions I gave more than a year ago to the German tourists – the two middle aged couples who stopped me on the street downtown at night looking for a brewery. They wanted something casual and reasonable with good beer, nearby, and I didn’t know what to tell them. There are lots of good breweries in Portland but not in that neighborhood. I wanted them to like the place I sent them and to like my city.

The only thing I could think of within walking distance was City Sports Bar, a spot I’d been to only once before for a game – a spot that had fused in my memory with the also nearby Rock Bottom Brewery. Neither is a place I would go out of my way for. But both have beers and cheap food. It was the best I could do with what they needed.

I didn’t know the exact corner so I sent a quick text off to Google, and Google returned an address. I wrote it down for them and sent them off. But I realized two blocks later that the address Google sent me was for City Grill, not City Sports Bar. City Grill is a fancy restaurant on the top floor of an office tower. I imagined the couples going up there in their casual walking clothes, confused at why I would think this was what they wanted, out of place, and at a total loss for what to do next.

And maybe after that the City Grill maitre d’ gave them directions to just what they were looking for. Or maybe they decided to splurge, and had a fine meal looking out across the city. Or maybe they passed a pub on the way and ducked inside, and had the best night of their trip. I have no idea.

So I don’t know why it comes up in my memory from time to time, when I am passing one of those restaurants or giving directions downtown. I don’t know why I remember it at all or why that memory bothers me like a bad decision. Recently I have been trying to let go of certain pieces of the past, and it surprises me sometimes which ones will not go gently.


jiggedy jig

I guess I have a thing for midwestern boys. One of my college loves was a Minnesotan, who took me back for the winter carnival and the state fair. We went sledding and toured the aerial walks of St. Paul. He introduced me to A Prairie Home Companion.

Then I had a crush on the Boy from Illinois. This one was unrequited but I fell for him all the same. I visited him in Chicago and he played the harmonica. He liked to bake pie.

Operaman was from Wisconsin. When he finally invited me out to meet his family - nervously, reluctantly, as if he was out of other options - we went to a dairy and a lake and an evangelical church. Add a Packers game and it would have been the complete Wisconsin Experience.

The AD is a… Michigonian? What do you call them? So I’m going there tomorrow. I guess it was only a matter of time. I’ve never intentionally sought a Midwest Conquest but apparently there’s something there that resonates with me. Maybe it’s the cheese curds and the custard. Maybe it’s the earnestness. Maybe it’s that I meet the particular midwesterners I meet only because they have left the midwest, so they have the kindness they were brought up with but also the curiosity to head for the coast.

I was about to muse on what it is the midwesterners like about me, but in the end my lack of midwestiness has been as problematic as it has been appealing. The Minnesotan wanted me to settle down and stay still. The Wisconsinite hated my sarcasm. The Illinois Boy was scared of me altogether.

The AD is surprised sometimes by my cursing, and sometimes he’s so literal I think he must be trying to pick a fight. But otherwise we seem to do ok with our respective origin-inspired tendencies. He opens doors for me, and carries the heavy things when we go camping. When he disagrees with me I disagree back, which he likes. And here we are both of us rerooted in the northwest, enjoying the hot springs and harboring mixed feelings about the hippies.

Tomorrow I’m going to Michigan, and so far I’ve only ever been to Detroit. This time I’ll see Ann Arbor and Jackson and some little town on a lake near the Ohio border where his sister lives, and there will be fireworks and motor boats and an RV and extended family and probably meat loaf. And this is why going to the midwest feels oddly like going back home.