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The People on the Bus

I have never owned a car. When people learn this about me, they are surprised. We live in such a car-centric society. So when I moved to Seattle after I graduated from college, one of the requirements was a decent public transportation system. The town I grew up in had none. Seattle’s was a dream compared to that.

children's school bus

In my twenty-two years of riding the bus in Seattle I’ve accumulated my fair share of experiences. Men who want to talk to me is fairly common. I’ve made friends from riding the bus. One friend I made ended up moving across the country to the same town my sister was living in, and they became neighbors and friends!

I take the bus every Sunday morning to Fremont, where I meet up with friends to write. Last week I decided to change up the route I had been taking. A man I’d talked to before was waiting at the stop. He’s probably in his early sixties. He’s tall, with salt and pepper hair and a mustache. He’s a quiet man, and he seems amused by what he sees, but underneath it there seems to be a sadness. I spoke with him several years ago, when Referendum 74 was going to be on the ballot. This was to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington. He was supportive of it, but he told me his family was conservative and wouldn’t. He couldn’t talk to them about it. I don’t know for certain that he’s gay, but I think he is.

Last week I talked to him again. During the course of our conversation I learned that he’d majored in computer science, and at some point while he was in college, he took a class to learn Braille. He works at the Talking Book and Braille Library, and he can read Braille visually. I didn’t even know that was possible. I thought that was so cool.

This morning I saw a woman I’d talked to before. She is an artist and she sells her work at the Pike Place Market. Last time I talked to her, it was a very wet day, and she was carrying a large piece of artwork covered in plastic. She’s also probably in her late 50s. She has large brown curls and a very open face. She clutches her art close to her body, and always wrapped in plastic. When I talked to her this morning, she said she didn’t recognize me. She has face blindness, so she can’t recognize faces, but she remembered other details that I hadn’t even paid attention to!

Did we talk at the Market?
No, I said, here, at the bus stop.
Oh, you gave me your card. It said bon vivant on it!
Diletantte, I say. Close!
Yes. And you had an amazing raincoat and boots.

We got on the bus and talked more about her art, rising cost of rent on Capitol Hill, carbon monoxide poisoning. I asked her if she knew a friend of mine who worked at the Market. She did, of course. It’s a small world. She invited me to call her to have tea or coffee sometime. I think I will.

My world is richer for knowing the people in my community, and the bus helps facilitate that. Although I have to put up with the stranger interactions, I wouldn’t trade it in for the wonderful friends I’ve made.

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Spoiler Alert!

warning sign

Many people know I grew up without a television in the house. My sister and brother and I got to see plenty of television shows, just not in our house. At friends’ and neighbors’ houses, all bets were off. But it was difficult if not impossible to stay current with television shows. Anything we watched would have been seen and dissected by our classmates long before we ever saw it.

As a result, I didn’t care about spoilers. Everything I watched had been “spoiled” – not by intent or malice, just by circumstance. Perhaps this was a defense strategy on my part, but I became much more interested in what people refer to today as the meta. Even though I might know the spoiler, there were enough details I didn’t know. It was up to me to fill in the holes and connect the dots. When I did finally see a show that had generated a lot of discussion (think “Who Shot J.R.?” on Dallas), I was much more curious to see how the story had been built than the final reveal.

I asked my girlfriend how she felt about spoilers. She doesn’t like to know what’s going to happen. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most people like that element of surprise. Which is why they get super pissed off when they find out something. (Hint: Dumbledore dies.)

I don’t participate in revealing spoilers (at least, not intentionally). Recently I was talking to an acquaintance about the Kate Chopin novel, The Awakening. I mentioned what happened at the end. I figured the statute of limitations was over, but apparently it wasn’t. He hadn’t finished reading it. Oops.

Even though I didn’t grow up with the internet, I was surrounded by humans who liked to chatter with each other about popular things. The internet definitely amplifies that, but I’ve managed to stay spoiler-free for the things I care about. And if I do happen to learn a spoiler before I consume the story? Well, it takes the pressure off racing through the story so I can focus on how the storyteller got to that point.

How do you feel about spoilers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you like bursting someone’s bubble? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Give Big!

Shoes for flying

Tomorrow, May 6th, is the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big day. Last year I gathered a short list of local Seattle organizations that qualify for the Give Big day. I’m going to do it again!

The idea is that if you donate money to your favorite non-profit orgs, it will be stretched by a giant pool of money available in SF’s coffers. Here are a few of my favorite very small orgs doing great work. I know the people intimately involved with the day-to-day operations and encourage you to add one of them to your giving today. Your donation will go much farther than in some of the big-name ones.

In addition to:
Nonfiction Media
One World Now
Theatre Off Jackson

I would like to add:
Solid Ground – Solid Ground ” works to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty.”
Byron Schenkman & Friends – a tiny group of Baroque and Classical musicians. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Byron perform, I hope you will one day.
KBCS – a local radio station that “produces and broadcasts quality programming that supports more inclusive interdependent communities.”

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rainbow bird (mural detail)

I am squarely a child of the ’70s and ’80s. Even though I grew up without a television in the house, certain elements of pop culture osmotically made their way into my awareness – particularly if there was a movie associated with it.

One of these elements that cemented itself into my psyche was the Muppets. Not just the Muppets that were on Sesame Street, although there was some of that when we would visit the neighbors. No, I’m talking about the rambunctious and wily characters that appeared first on the Muppet Show, and then in Hollywood with the Muppet Movie.

A little aside: most of the music in our house came from the radio, and it was always set to the public radio station that played classical music, which my mom loved. That was the substrate of our lives. But it was also the adult music. My sister and I acquired a Fisher-Price record player sometime in the mid ’70s. It was plastic and it folded up. When it was closed, it looked like a pair of jeans, with the stitching on the back pocket. I joke that we had three records that we played on it: John Denver, John Denver and the Muppets, and The Muppet Movie soundtrack.

The Muppets of my childhood were raucous and wild and crazy. They were silly. They crossed the lines. There were something vaguely dangerous about them. When I watched them, I understood that they were geared toward adults, but they were letting the children in, too. They stirred something in my heart, a yearning and an understanding that maybe, just maybe, the line between child and adult wasn’t as firm and clear as I’d been led to believe.

Fast forward to The Muppets of 2011, as re-imagined by Jason Segel and Disney. I wanted more than anything to love this movie. But it ended up lacking that transgressive quality that Jim Henson captured so well. Here’s what I said at the time:

It was too sweet and treacly. My mom said it was like old Mouseketeers. At first I thought she had misspoken, but then she explained how Amy Adams was like Annette Funicello – this mix of innocence and sexiness at the same time. My mom said how stacked Annette was. But that was exactly it. Disney has this knack for taking anything and sanitizing the shit out of it. The edge that Jim Henson had was gone. I loved feeling like a badass when I was a kid watching his stuff. I felt like I was transgressing something, watching something that seemed like it was for adults, even though it was for everyone. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem? PLEASE. GIVE ME MORE LIKE THAT. Jack Black, I love ya, but I don’t think kids find you scary one tiny bit. I could be wrong on that.

The Muppets themselves were always central to the story. They were these silly bits of felt and plastic, who through the magic of puppeteering, came alive. The humans in Henson’s world served the Muppets. But Jason Segel couldn’t see that, and neither could Disney. They made the humans the central figures in the updated version. I think this clip of Steve Martin as the insolent waiter in the original movie captures the inversion so well. He is literally serving the Muppets, and he’s aware of it, AND we know it and are let in on the joke:

Would love to hear your thoughts on all things Muppets, from the Rainbow Connection to Kermit in Russia (yes, I’m such a deeply devoted fan that even though they ripped my heart out, I’ll probably go see the new movie).

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Week 29: Round

I decided to feature a few images from my recent trip to Japan for this week’s prompt, round.

First is the Daimon Gate in Koya-san. I couldn’t get far enough away from it to get it all in my camera. And then I saw this mirror on the road, to enable drivers to see around the corner. I ran over to snap the picture and was more than satisfied with the result:

Daimon in the mirror

After a morning in Kyoto, my parents and I visited the Nishiki Market. It was a hot day and these three cups of tea were offered to us after we bought a rice cracker. They were cool and refreshing, most welcome.

Kyoto adventure - three cups of tea

And finally, I was charmed by this row of red pails at the Ryoanji Temple. We saw red buckets everywhere, many of which said they were to collect water to extinguish fires.

rain barrels

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Whale mural

Today is the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big campaign. The idea is that if you donate money to your favorite non-profit orgs, it will be stretched by a giant pool of money available in SF’s coffers. Here are a few of my favorite very small orgs doing great work. I know the people intimately involved with the day-to-day operations and encourage you to add one of them to your giving today. Your donation will go much farther than in some of the big-name ones.

Amy Benson and Scott Squire’s Nonfiction Media is the organization through which they are making The Girl Who Knew Too Much. They have finished filming and are hoping to raise enough money to cover the cost of translation. It costs $50 for one hour. This story is going to change lives. It already has.

OneWorld Now! was started by my friend Kristin Hayden after the September 11th attacks in 2001. Her vision is to give underserved teens the opportunity to learn a foreign language and then travel abroad, breaking down barriers and misconceptions about people in other parts of the world.

Theatre Off Jackson is a very small theatre run by two women who love theater and art. They often host shows that otherwise wouldn’t have a space.

SHARE/WHEEL works to eradicate homelessness. It is a network of 14 self-orgainzed & self-managed shelters and two tent Cities that together shelter over 450 people every night, making them the largest shelter network in Seattle – with the smallest budget, thanks to that “self-organized” part.

Thanks for your generosity!

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Crockpot Co-workers

beach chicken

Lindy West had a fantastic list of Ten Types of Shitty Coworkers and How to Not Murder Them.

#2 was The Nutritionist, which started off about vegans. That totally cracked me up, because I could relate, mostly from bringing vegan food to work and having other people grill me about it. But then I got to this:

…the dude who keeps a crockpot of Costco meatballs simmering at his desk at all times and shorts out your space heater and makes fun of you for eating carrots because “carrots are for pussies”…

If I had not worked in a cube farm with a man who used to cook chicken in a crockpot under his desk and stink up the whole room, I would never have believed this one. Not only that, he was gay and had a signed picture of George H.W. Bush and Babs on his cube wall. AND, he used a plug-in air freshener. He also clipped his toenails at work. Apparently this combo means I won the competition of strange and annoying co-workers. His only saving grace (for me) was that he was a couple of rows over.

I really found it all too amusing. Would love to hear about some of your quirky co-workers!

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And sometimes you get a parachute

orange jellies

A short update to my post last week about getting locked out of Facebook. After a few days of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, I was magically able to return. I believe I know what happened, although I don’t understand the timing. Last fall I changed my middle name to a political campaign. Even though I removed it after the election, for some reason it took Facebook 4 months to figure out I was violating their ToS.

So, I am back in, but in a more moderate way. For me, Facebook feeds this narcissistic, ego-centric view of the world. While I didn’t have access, I realize how much time I spent just crafting what I might post next with a view toward how much attention it would receive.

Facebook has its utility, which is why I (along with so many others) continue to participate in that space – namely that it is the one social media where all of my close friends are also online. Also, I like the passive nature of sharing there. I just post what I want (har har) and then people can respond as is their wont. As opposed to sending an email or making some kind of direct engagement that requires me to break through the imperceptible personal boundary. Clearly this is an issue I just need to get over. I don’t think most people feel receiving an email is intrusive. Hell, I think I’m stuck in the last decade and most people don’t even use email anymore – especially if they are under 30. But that’s another topic for another day.

For now, I have made up with Facebook. But I’m still making sure to grab all my friends’ contact information before I get cut off or leave of my own volition. In my experience, there is a lifecycle to these things and even if Facebook does nothing, some day something else will come along that will supplant their monopoly.

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Roe at 40

orange bloom

In January 1990, I was a freshman in college and doing an internship in an Ohio state representative’s office in Washington, D.C. Mostly this consisted of helping the staffers go through the mail the legislator received. I also got to explore the tunnels beneath the 3 buildings that held the legislators’ offices, take bundles of mail to be “franked” (machines that signed the legislator’s signature in lieu of postage) and handle the receipt of flags that constituents asked for.

But January 22nd, 1990, was a different day. It was cold and bright and the “Pro-Life” lobby was hitting the Hill hard. The representative’s office had been inundated with graphic postcards of aborted fetuses and there were groups visiting every elected official and dropping off dead roses. Up until that point, I had wavered as to what was the right position to take on abortion. But seeing these people so determined to make that choice for me, I determined that day that every woman should have the choice.

I think Marge Piercy said it best:

“I will choose what enters me, what becomes flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. If I give it to you, I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand.”

I want the final say over my future, and I believe every woman should have that right.

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A Year in Review

temple heart bells

What was your proudest achievement?

  • Finishing the first draft of the story I started last year and letting someone else look at it.
  • Being present and available to support my mom during some health challenges.
  • Getting THIS website started.
  • Learning to use my new camera!

Your biggest change?
I initially felt that 2012 didn’t have any dramatic changes, and I still stand by that. But I became more attuned to subtlety in the last year, which has felt deeply satisfying.

Your happiest moment?
As with the previous question, there weren’t really any giant spikes that stood out. It’s just been a good year. But one thing that I totally enjoyed this year was getting more into birding – first with the barred owls and then nearly tripping over the snowy owl in November!

Your most exciting trip?
I only traveled 3 times this year – I would have to say the ski trip was definitely the most fun. Oh, I just remembered I went down to Portland for a couple of days to hang out with my little sister. That was pretty awesome, too.

Your favourite meal?
Probably the dinner I had at D.O.C. in Portland.

The thing that made you laugh the hardest?
25 funniest autocorrects was pretty damn funny.

What did you do that surprised you the most?
Started another novel.

What happened that you’d have never anticipated this time last year?
Marriage equality passed AT THE BALLOT BOX in three states and a homophobic law was voted down. And Anderson Cooper finally came out of the closet.

Your favourite book / film / poem / music / museum (could be for totally spurious reasons that have nothing to do with the book / film / music in question)?
Book: I had more than one. You can see the top titles here. I guess I’d say there were three:

  • Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
  • Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse
  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Movie: The Cloud Atlas and The King’s Speech

Who made you smile the most?

My sweetie.

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