Here’s what’s blooming in my garden; dicentra, commonly known as Bleeding Heart. This I believe is dicentra formosa.
Here’s what’s not blooming, iris douglasiana, commonly called Native Pacific Iris.
We’re backwards guys. The iris has bloomed around Easter ever since it was planted 20 years ago. To bring it back to flowering I need to dig up my plants, divide them into multiplied bunches, relocate. I knew this had to happen soon, turns out soon was last year. The dicentra on the other hand, has hardly bloomed recently and this year it’s profuse.
I haven’t changed much on purpose – only moving a couple of hydrangeas closer to the lawn to minimize sprinkler coverage. But the garden changed itself. How so? A tree fell down, of course. Then we had a very dry January and February, but a rainy March to date. So, exeunt Iris, enter Bleeding Heart.
Also a bunch of violas self-seeded under my gardenia pot, accompanied by a veritable horde of purple alyssum in the ground behind.
All of which I say as background for an anecdote. My daughter is selling her furniture in preparation for her move up North. Some of this furniture had been mine. I asked her to keep a Chinese rug that my mother bought me in 1979, at Macy’s in New York. Partly for sentiment, but also it’s lovely and kind of historic having been sold here so soon after China opened up.
The rest I’ve been glad to see go, even though she did sell one table that I had feelings for. I got it in 1980, when I moved into the co-op apartment my inheritance allowed me to buy on Riverside Drive and 104th, in Manhattan. I had no right beyond family fortune to live where I did, but I loved that place and the process of setting up home on my own. My parents had divorced only a couple of years before, I had no idea about life, but I could buy a prewar co-op with herringbone hardware floors and a glass-paned French door. The door led to a hallway and two bedrooms. For water in the bathrooms, pillowy white ceramic handles. Labelled incorrectly, the Hot was in fact Cold.
So, the table. Marble-topped, but modern. Narrow, to fit my little entry hall. Chrome-based. Rectangular, long-legged. I’ve always felt that by keeping it I remembered more. But when I realized the table was going I spent some time actively seeing everything again and that was good. The old elevator with round buttons. By holding on to old furniture, I had in some way allowed myself to forget.
I’ve never been one for the Kondo philosophy of Everything You Keep Must Spark Joy. I treasure some of my sadnesses and failures. But this has been a good week for a famous 1970s philosophy, If You Love It Let It Go.
That apartment was less grand that it sounds, by the way. The windows rattled like crazy and being young and foolish I replaced the originals with quiet vinyl-framed whatsits. Also the kitchen was a cockroach-infested rathole, a few cruddy appliances shoehorned along two facing walls, room only for two people to stand back to back, sink to stove.
Sometimes there’s more in the losing than in the having. Also, my mother’s dementia is worsening and she can barely talk but I really love her now. This feels connected but I am not grand enough to overtly say how.
Maybe all along I have just been bribing you with purple flowers to listen to my strong feelings.
Yesterday medical students all across the country participated in the culmination of a process known as the National Resident Matching Program. I went down to Southern California to be with my daughter for the event. Today I am very happy that she has matched into a top-notch neurosurgical residency program; sad, however, that her next seven years will be spent in the Pacific Northwest rather than the Bay Area.
This is what happens when you give birth to and raise someone with these particular abilities. You celebrate loudly at all appropriate moments, afterwards maybe you cry a little bit in the airport. Her happiness, however, is encouraging mine.
Guys, I’m trying to hang my Christmas presents. I got not one but three new pieces of art, and I love them all and I want to put them on my walls.
From my husband, a family portrait by Ian Gallagher. Not my family, mind you, but one of his Families. Second, from my sister, a print of trees, which are sort of a theme in this house. Third, from myself, one of Kathy Leed’s domestic still lives. You might think that I appreciate each piece less because they all arrived at the same time, but it worked the other way around. They make each other more meaningful, like my own teeny tiny exhibition.
Thing is, I need your thoughts. Kathy’s painting arrived all set but the other two are loose. I’d love to hear your opinions on framing.
I’ve put it in our guest room, so that as I sit writing on one of our living room sofas, I can turn and see it down the hall. I’m inspired by what Kathy does and has managed to do.
Here’s a old, wider shot of the room. (By the way, I did put two tan-tipped sheepskins on the floor, and while a second rug would have been a fuller solution, I’m pretty okay with how it looks now. Just need new shades and curtains for the big windows you can’t see here.)
My sister’s print will go in my workroom.
For context, in a fit of impatience last summer I painted the bookshelf in that room lavender gray. While I felt great relief at having finished something that had been in my to-do list forever, the color looks as bad as you all predicted. Ha! Laughing at oneself is good therapy.
May the moodiness of winter trees counteract my full sun foolery.
So, the question is, what kind of frame? How about a crazy 3 inches of chrome? This is what the rest of the room looks like, as I cannot imagine that anyone remembers. And this was the rest of the room back when. I’ve moved things around, and of course cluttered up the desk like whoa.
And finally, Ian’s piece, for our living room. Family.
I will be resting it on the mantelpiece like so.
In this room, where the fireplace runs perpendicular to this loveseat, on the same wall as this other work of art.
I’m thinking framed in plain, flat blond wood.
But I would love to hear your ideas. Which, if history repeats itself, I will ignore, and as day follows night regret my intransigence, but hey, we’re friends. To my great relief, we mostly forgive each other.
Have a wonderful weekend. For a wish, how about art?
I imagine many of you love where you live – me too. I’ve probably made that pretty clear. But I’ve mostly talked about the landscape. The color of the skies, rain puddles, a brief and early spring.
I may love my local pho place as much as the weather. Pho, as I’m guessing you know, is a Vietnamese noodle soup and it is pronounced, “Fuh.” The restaurant is owned by a woman who looks to be in her early 30s. I have to point out that she’s beautiful because the place is very small and her presence felt, but I should also tell you she is on top of every detail and not afraid to run the show. She makes sure we are all seated as quickly as possible.
She often brings her little boy with her, and her mom, or maybe an auntie, will feed him lunch. He now looks to be almost two, a boy as beautiful as his mother, who shows his feelings – joy at the space, annoyance at his food, comfort in his mama.
We patrons are a varied bunch.
A table of five, high tech workers from the way they talked. The man who appears to be their manager sounds like he’s Brasilian. He wears his salt and pepper hair combed back in waves. However, I really don’t know where he comes from, and it’s important not to make assumptions. I trust my assessment that he’s the boss more than any other guess I make.
Another table, of two. A tall distinguished woman with a dark bob, still wearing her wool trapeze jacket, eats with a younger woman who looks to be her adult daughter. The young woman has longer hair. They are both Caucasian.
A third table of three young men, all of whom look to be Asian. Again, don’t assume, because people from certain parts of Latin America often have the look we Anglo-Americans often think of as Asian.
Note how often I have to use a qualifying “often.”
Yet another table of five workers. These guys have jobs that require them to wear bright yellow and orange vests. They might also have hard hats in their car, which might be a truck. They wear badges. Two are African-American, but maybe from Haiti, so, I’m not sure what descriptor they’d like me to use. I’ll keep my labels to myself, transparent, ready to change. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect human beings not to generate labels for what we see, it appears to be a fundamental part of our process for language and meaning. But it has to be possible that we all remember we are making assumptions only as a step in understanding, and we are therefore happy to adjust as we learn more.
Obviously that’s really what I’m trying to say here.
The men are all talking about the Golden State Warriors, our championship basketball team who play in Oakland, on the other side of San Francisco Bay. We don’t call ourselves the “Bay Area” for nothing.
The little boy will saunter around every now and then. His head isn’t yet as high as our plates. Everybody says hello.
The owner sits down at a table, sometimes, for meetings. Seems she has made such a success of the pho place that she’s investing in commercial real estate. I find myself borrowing pride in her success, although our weekly bowls of chicken and beef pho, fewer noodles, extra meat (maybe a shrimp spring roll, fried imperial rolls if I’m feeling reckless), are teeny in the scheme of her accomplishment.
I should definitely point out that the pho is really good here. There are pho restaurants up and down the Peninsula, which is what we call this side of the Bay, but this one is one of the best we’ve found. You just have to make sure to get there before 1:30pm because occasionally they have been known to water down the broth a bit if they start to run out. It takes hours to make, so, can’t just re-up on short notice.
When people talk about America, this is mine. Lunch-based, with an oval maroon-rimmed plate of jalapeños, basil, and bean sprouts.
I got nostalgic the other day and looked through old style posts. Above you see my first attempt at a decent outfit photo. Vintage Chanel jacket, Tory Burch top, Seven for All Mankind Jeans, and some Manolo Blahnik flats. Floating against a paper backdrop in all my best.
Well-dressed, well-focused, self-conscious.
Several years later, when a reader said my photos made her feel sad, I tried again. Here, anchored by an orange car and orange shoes, my embarassment battled with the adrenaline required to dash into the street and pose before my self-timer went off. I hoped nobody would run into the tripod I’d stationed on the sidewalk. The shot blurred.
Eventually I got comfortable enough with passers-by and images of myself to show curves – both societally appreciated and the not so much. You have to make peace with midlife midriff.
However, most of my favorite photos have been taken by friends and family with great eyes. Credit here goes to my son, last summer, in Edinburgh.
Sometimes the details do it. Jewelry, for example. I learned to show it in black and white, so as not to overwhelm the image with crevasses of my aging skin. This pretty Blue Nile necklace might have been my favorite of all my giveaways with that brand.
How about a new haircut? A good one rescues a person from the indignities of bathroom iPhone selfies. Loved that wood watch – eventually it broke.
Finally, that time when Ray-Ban said “Yes” to my pitch for a sponsored post.
I took these photos myself out on the coast, at sunrise. I felt, true or not, as though many threads came together. I traveled; I felt both creative and unabashed; my mother would have found my outfit very good-looking. Also a wave got my tripod.
Thanks for indulging me in reminiscence. Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Sometimes you’re accomplishing more than you know.
Yesterday I woke up with a shoulder so sore I said “Ow!” out loud, repeatedly, even when I wasn’t moving. I had injured it 3-4 years ago by, get this, trying to shrug on a tight leather jacket. And now the pain was back. It really hurt.
Adding ridiculousness to injury, I think I re-irritated it by lying in bed in the morning, holding my phone to read it/type. (Also I just looked up “ridiculousness” because I thought there must be a better word that I couldn’t remember, but there isn’t.)
Who gets injured by their clothes and their information devices?
I could wander off into a consideration of aging at 61, and small but painful hiccups – are they a Scroogian “blot of mustard” or a glimpse of mortality and all we do not know –but let’s not! Let’s take a determined optimistic approach to ignoring what we cannot answer! Let’s listen to the dishwasher humming and the heater blowing and be so happy it’s Saturday morning! It’s a skill, cheerfulness.
But if we are lucky, and we have the capacity to put our personal Dickensian fragments of undigested potatoes aside, maybe we should rededicate ourselves to a better world. Those things no one can ignore.
Have a good weekend everyone – good’s going to have to mean everything from clean dishes to peace on earth.
I suspect this is due a host of things out of my control. I prefer to solve external problems for fixes but this time I’ll have to work on my attitude. My mood? Whatever. Cranky people haven’t got enough patience to find the right words.
Totally going to have to take a long walk. Probably see about not cooking, eating out instead. Hope to confirm that I’m making progress on my long form writing project.
But I can also dream about trees. Yup, trees.
I often use my potential garden as a mood enhancer. The actual one too, of course, but right now I’m daunted by weeds. Hoeing is hard work, say the cranky. In other words, staying in the moment is great but sometimes the moment is too dang crowded and you gotta get out.
I want to plant three new trees, and I’d love for them all to be native Californians. Maybe a red alder for the back yard, to replace, although not exactly, our fallen elm. I believe these take a fuller shape when you plant one on its own. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?
And I’m thinking of an incense cedar for the side yard, to shade the southern side of our roof. House got HOT last summer.
Maybe a California buckeye for the front yard. Buckeyes leaf out early in spring, bloom like crazy, and then go bare. I imagine roses twining through the branches as though in a garden deserted by humans, left to revert.
Gardens are a good way to disappear the annoyances of humanity in general, if only for an hour or so.
Of course I’m not sure my tree dreams survive. The alder might kill my little lawn, the buckeye suffer from the water I need for roses. Even as I write my crankiness I’m starting to laugh at it.
What do you do to get yourself back into sorts when you are out? And have a good weekend. I’m not in such a bad way I’d forget that.
Yeah. That’s the moon. And it was in fact teeny, that’s not just the effect of my iPhone.
On the morning of the recent lunar eclipse I woke up at 4:45 am hoping to find a giant blood red moon in my back yard. Nope. I love celestial events, I will never forget last year’s super moon, it shone like a silver dinner plate right over my neighbor’s house. Or a meteor shower above the Eastern Sierra, August, 1975. I love the feeling of mystery in the universe, of being small and lost in the glorious overhead.
This, however, was not that. Thank heavens for small earthly surprises.
The hellebore bloomed early – surprise! – amid my daphne. Leslie asked for a photo, Leslie, here you go. Extra fern, no charge.
Someone also asked for a photo of my olive trees, lined up in pots on my back patio. Happy to oblige.
Here I have been both surprised and charmed by small birds who hop about in the olive branches. I see them from my sofa, I interpret them as cheerful and industrious, I assume they don’t see me at all.
Finally, one recent warm day, my aunt and I decided to take my mother out for a walk down our main street. Mom was in a wheelchair, my aunt and I took turns to push. It turns out that as Mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses, she is loses language, which makes her very anxious. She lived for human contact and conversation.
We got her some ice cream, and found ourselves near a group of pre-teen boys. They ate their ice cream and joshed each other. Mom indicated she wanted to go over to them. I was worried they’d be brusque, rude, mocking. As we wheeled up, I warned the boys, “You won’t understand what she says. My mom’s got Alzheimers. But she’ll be happy to talk to you.” The tallest boy smiled and said, “That’s OK.” The little guy at the back, hair all combed, said, “I’m happy too.”
I almost died of joy. Mom just watched the boys until her anxiety told her it was time to get moving again. I did not expect a straggle of pre-teen boys to eclipse a super moon, but I was shortsighted.
I still hate housecleaning. Just needed to put that out here. Four and a half years of retirement haven’t made me a fan of household chores. Drat.
I know some of you love what some call “the domestics.” I find myself wondering, as I mop the floor, “This? Love?” But I also know that some of you have a housecleaner, which might help. I have not been able to find someone, and don’t plan to pursue it any more because it seems silly for two adults in a small house to have help when one them has free time and needs every possible opportunity to move around. Also the people we tried broke one of my benches and talked a lot on their cellphones and kept changing their schedule.
In any case, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I have been thinking about other joys to staying home. To being the one responsible.
Also by joy I don’t mean the usual warm feeling flooding our hearts. I mean the joy of a small, detailed puzzle, seeing a picture emerge out of patches. A surprise to the mind.
I was cleaning up after Christmas, an unfinished process still, and thought, “Next year I will do this with less fuss.” Now I can see the boxes of decorations, still lined up against my windows; I see the daphne blooming along the lawn. I think of last summer, when the sun shone so hot we bought not one but two sky blue patio umbrellas. We open them right outside these same windows; they shade the sofa and we hide.
What I mean to say is that from here I see the full year, each time weighted in its own value. When I worked time was unbalanced. Vacations and holidays I thought and felt one way, work another. Who could imagine next Christmas, next summer, or the next opening of the daphne?
Something else I thought recently, and put on Twitter this morning as I sidled up to writing.
The culture leads us to believe that one mythical day, when we are 35, or 28, or 42, is our “real life.” The time before then is to get ready, the time after we run in place. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I want every minute of my life to be my life. To live in the self that I am.
I admit I’m still tempted to live in the future. But at 61, why? And I can’t live in the past, it will never return, there’s nothing to envision or wait for, it happened. Already.
In some odd way having enough time to see the year as a series of equal steps places me in the moment. Future spring, let’s say, anchors me in today’s late late winter.
None of which is to say that Buddha mops the floors. Just that new ways of life bring new unpredicted rewards.
When you have a job, recreation is simple – it happens in the time left over.
By the way, I’ve never been one to recreate with sports or hobbies. Exercise is effort; knitting would kill me. Hotel stays are good, especially with a spa onsite, but my tastes are sadly fancy and therefore unsustainable.
I amuse myself, therefore, primarily with narrative – both printed word, and those images that flicker by which can’t quite be called television if you watch a streaming service on a laptop.
When I worked, I held these narratives to no standard at all. All the junk stories fit to consume, a motto. Supermarket romances, soap operas, thrillers, beauty pageants. No more. In retirement, anything I do as “work,” i.e., writing, has to be fun; anything I do as “fun,” i.e., consume narrative, needs to be worth my time.
All of which is naught but preamble to a few recommendations. You too might be looking for stories that deserve attention.
Books Read (Books I want to read because people in my family have thought they are good include: The Ninth House by Alice McDermott, Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain, and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent)
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid (Immigration, delicate and enchanting magical realism, you can’t figure out how the book does what it does as you read, even the over-rational like me can completely immerse ourselves in the narrative)
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee (Korean immigrants in Japan, over decades. A family saga, at the next level of artistry.)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson (It’s a fantasy, but imagine Jared Diamond’s geographical masterpiece, “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” as a novel about a woman warrior who enters politics, as a tax collector, in a richly imagined land. One of the most compelling reads I’ve had in the last couple of years.)
Digital Narrative Watched (I’m going to assume you’ve all seen or at least heard of The Crown, and Frankie and Grace, so I’ll focus on somewhat lesser known shows.)
The Good Place – ABC (Brilliant, funny, about moral philosophy and giant flying shrimp. Also Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto. Just watch it. Do not give up on the first season, it is masterful all the way to the end. And the first season is like Groundhog Day meets Through The Looking Glass Cheers and Veronica Mars. Obviously indescribable.)
The Path – Hulu (For anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, this portrayal of cults is unmissable. Featuring Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad.)
Vera – ITV (In its 8th season, this British detective series stars the fantastic Brenda Blethyn as a single middle-aged woman who wears a rainhat like nobody’s business and calls people “Pet.” So comforting, so well-written and performed. Previous seasons can be seen on Hulu and on Acorn, a Commonwealth-produced-only streaming service.)
The Deuce – HBO (Maggie Gyllenhaal is worth watching in anything, even something about 70s-era Times Square and the pornography industry.)
SMILF – Showtime (Newcomer Frankie Shaw wrote and stars in this show about a single mother in Boston. Rose O’Donnell plays her mom. It’s very raw, but also funny, and Shaw is incredibly appealing as are the adorable little ones who play her son)
If you know some under-the-radar good stuff, particularly of this artistic but not impenetrable variety, please feel free to share below.
Have a wonderful weekend. So much going on in our world. I imagine my little post on fiction as mere white space to the graphic novel in which we now live. Stranger than fantasy indeed.
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