Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Hospitality of Explanation

My brother Tim and I have been exchanging responses to the recent NYT piece by the Dalai Lama, Many Faiths, One Truth. I guess in some ways, given the background of Christian certainty we came from, any discussion at all is a giant leap forward, since discussion necessarily includes a possibility of interpretation. Actually, the majority of us who still believe in God in our family made that leap a long time ago.

A writer friend, Crescent Dragonwagon, posted this quote today on her Facebook -- James Wood in the 5.17 New Yorker, on Alexis de Tocqueville: "The hospitality of explanation is more interesting than the solitude of dismissal."

May our religious lives around the world be characterized by such hospitality.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Street Poetry

I'm wishing I had a phone with a camera, because then I could have taken a picture of this poem, coming out of the typewriter at Open Books, the poetry store on 45th near Sunnyside in Wallingford. I always stop and read the poem in the typewriter. Today I had to copy it down.

"The Lilac"

Who thought of the lilac?
"I," dew said,
I made up the lilac,
out of my head."

"She made up the lilac!
Pooh!" thrilled a linnet,
and each dew-note
had a lilac in it.

Humbert Wolfe

(I had to look up "linnet" in my Random House Dictionary; thought it was a flower, but it's a bird, a fringilline bird, fringilline meaning the finch family. A house finch, perhaps, a favorite of mine.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where's the Rest Room?

I walked over to the bus stop at 43rd and Fremont in the sunshine yesterday afternoon to wait for the #5. I was meeting four friends from Bainbridge to hear short stories read at Town Hall by ACT actors. Then everybody was coming back to my place for dinner.

As I waited, a woman crossed the street and said to me, "There a bathroom in there?" Meaning the laundromat behind me. I said I didn't know. I was expecting some courtesy words, like "Excuse me, but do you happen to know..." or "Thanks anyway..." or something. She looked kind of agitated, and rough, a missing front tooth, healed spots on her face, two bags for each hand. But she didn't smell of sweat or alcohol. She didn't seem to be on anything.

Then she said, "All the bathrooms are for customers only. I don't have any money. What do they expect me to do? I've tried four places. I'm so mad, I feel like pulling down my pants and peeing on the sidewalk right there in front of Cafe Vita."

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe there's a bathroom in the laundromat. You could check." She went in and asked the attendant, who didn't speak great English, and kept repeating, No public restroom.

She came back out. After awhile, I went in and said to the attendant, "Do you know where there is a public restroom?" "No public restroom," she said.

So what is a person to do? I couldn't think of any place. I said, "I'm really sorry. This is bad. It shouldn't be like this."

She said, "If you wanted to use the restroom, dressed like you are, you'd be able to. They take one look at me and...."

The bus came. We got on. "Thanks for listening," she said. When she got off, she said to me, "Have a good day."

"You too," I said.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The 13th of Paris

The 13th of Paris is Seattle Public Theater's new play at the Bathhouse Theater at Greenlake. I saw it last night. I think you should go.

I went with a couple of friends. Before it started I said, What's this about? What do the program notes say? "It's about 'how love can be as simple and beautiful as an inside joke,'" one read doubtfully. Not much to go on, really.

The action begins in a Paris apartment. Young Vincent flew there on a whim the night before, to the apartment his grandparents had shared. He left so suddenly that his girlfriend is right now sitting in a restaurant in Chicago, expecting him to join her for dinner. He loves his girlfriend, but is it the big love he longs for, a big love like his grandparents shared in the love letters they left behind?

Vincent gets nervous about Annie when they run out of things to say. He's terrified of ending up like another couple in the restaurant, fat and fifty and silent. I remember, as a young bride in my first marriage, feeling the terror of running out of things to say at dinner in the first week! What on earth would we do with the rest of our lives?!

Vincent's grandpa and grandma are ghostly presences, Grandpa actively coaching. Another young couple, American friends living in Paris, drop by and show us another variation on the love theme. All provide Vincent with viewpoints for his love quest, but ultimately, he understands that he's not them. We each get and make our own special love.

The 13th of Paris (the 13th refers to the arrondissement) is romantic and amusing. Is it fluff? Not to me. What's more important than finding and recognizing and keeping that big love? (Especially when you're sixty and single in Seattle!)

Playwright Mat Smart, 29, says in an interview in the program, "I write about the things that keep me up at night and wake me up in the morning -- about the questions I don't know the answer to."

Thank you, Mat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Thin Place on Stage

I'm guessing I won't be the only reviewer who uses "thin" when describing the Intiman's new play, The Thin Place. I went with two friends from my church, St Paul's. We care about this stuff.

It's a one-act play, inspired by a Dan Savage piece that ran on NPR's This American Life, and based on interviews with Seattleites about their faith experience. One actor, Gbenga Akinnagbe, of HBO's The Wire, plays all twelve parts.

As we walked back up to my friend's Queen Anne condo afterwards, peering avidly into dusky gardens, A said, "So what did you think?" N said, "I always need time to process these things, but at first, I kept checking my watch." I didn't start checking mine until we were halfway in. How can a play about religious faith, performed by a terrific actor, possibly be tedious? We agreed to reflect.

This morning, I have it. The people who wrote this play don't have enough history, of life or religion or philosophy. They're asking the wrong questions; there's not enough at stake. It's like trying to learn about sex from people who only know it as recreation.

The deep questions religion raises, the ones that keep you up and wake you in the night, are ones like, "My husband is dead. I miss him. What if there is no afterlife?" And, as The Atlantic put it in an article in the '90s, "Can we be good without God?" I think of that old saw, 'You're walking alone down a city street late at night, when suddenly five burly young men round the corner. Would it make you feel safer to know they just got out of church?' Probably yes, and what does that mean?

And what about the people who actually meet God, like writer Anne Lamott's story of Jesus appearing one night, the last person she ever wanted to see, in the corner of her houseboat bedroom? Those are the stories that give meaning, for me, to the term "saved."

Not that The Thin Place doesn't have its moments. The most powerful for me was the story of a Vietnamese man in a Communist prison, who calls out to God, and is answered.

But there's not enough of this. One character gleefully repeats, "I love Jesus but I like to sin." Yeah, maybe it's cute, but you want drama? The mature statement of this dilemma is better put by St Paul, confronting his continuing failure to live up to his own standards: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

My view? Religion light produces drama light.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Mom, Two Kids, 30 Days of Biking

You've gotta read this, for inspiration. I wrote a month ago about my own 30 Days of Biking inspiration, due in part to this Austin mom.

This morning, I biked to my short story class at Greenlake as I do every Tuesday morning. (I took the car one morning when I was so tired from moving, and what a pain in the butt it is to drive that quick route!) I love my Sunday morning ride to church -- just 6.6 mi, but including the Dexter grade and the Fremont hill, so I feel I've had some exercise. I rode to a lecture at Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park, and to a film night at REI.

And I love biking in skirts!

Geraniums in Windowbox

I have red ivy geraniums in my window box on the front bay windows. I stuck red chard seeds in among them yesterday afternoon.

There's a little maple tree out my front window, that had little red flowers on earlier this spring, which have become those red helicopter whirly things...

Need one say more? No, but here's more. The window cleaner man was here today to do our exterior windows (so of course it is now raining), and I just finished washing my screens out back; tomorrow I'll squeegee my inside windows, but this afternoon's job is to finish making the drapes for the bedroom. I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how to cut even rectangles with 96" long sides out of the gorgeous sort of tea-stained, vintage-looking, flowered Laura Ashley linen and cotton fabric I bought the year after my divorce, when I figured my home could now be as flowery as I might wish. It's perfect for my pink bedroom.

Did I say, my house smells like the brownies I just took out of the oven? That the timer on my new range makes the most charming "b-ding, b'ding" sound? That my new dishwasher holds my wine and champagne glasses beautifully, so I don't have to wash them by hand? That the washer here is a tumbler, low-water user?

That I wake up every morning excited to be here? So grateful for my new home....

Friday, May 14, 2010

Second Thoughts

Okay, I know better than to post something that hasn't set up overnight. I jumped the gun on the Crawford piece, partly because I've been so busy moving that I feel behind on posting.

Anyway, have I left readers with the idea that, by my definition, a Real Man watches TV, rides and repairs motorcycles, smokes cigarettes, tells dirty jokes, and owns guns?

If not, then what do I mean?

I'm working on it....

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft is Matthew B. Crawford's wonderful book. I went to hear him Wednesday night at Town Hall. It was a perfect adventure, start to finish, with a young woman beside me on the bus who loved my Eyes-on-Fremont eyeglasses. I wish I could remember her term of approbation: "Righteous"? Anyway, at my age it's easy to forget I'm cool, and nice to be reminded.

Met a spunky older (than me) lady at the lecture, too, and a youngish guy on the bus home was reading Don Quixote on his cellphone. He said he was recently back from the Netherlands, where biking is so ubiquitous it doesn't occur to you to walk anywhere. (Bus life is so rich.)

Back to Crawford. I had read about his book with interest, having been married for 25 years to a smart building contractor, and having a stepson who is no good academically, yet such a good plumber and human that people are kind of pleased when things start to leak so they can call him.

Crawford, with a Ph.D. in philosophy, quit after six months a lucrative think-tank job he hated. Today he has a motorcycle repair shop called Shockoe Moto. He looks to be in his 40s, trim, handsome, extremely serious. He's funny, in that wry, dry way that doesn't require smiling. When asked a question, he appears attentive, thoughtful, and respectful. He displayed no real affect when he signed my copy of his book.

Yes, Mary the Thrifty bought a book, and thank God it was available in paperback, because I had to have it. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard (whoever he is), one of many enthusiastic book reviewers, is quoted on the cover saying, "A superb combination of testimony and reflection." Testimony. Interesting choice, when it could have been experience or memoir or anecdote, but no, testimony is exactly right. His concerns are moral and ethical; he lives and works and thinks in the realm of philosophy.

One reason he loves his work: success and failure are concrete and measurable. The bike runs or it doesn't. The bike runs fast or it doesn't. It remains in one piece, burns up, wears out, or not. There's no cover-your-ass or phony team-building self-esteem promoting management theory to it. He looks his customers and colleagues in the face.

Crawford is looking at questions of work and vocation, but more, he's exploring what it means to be a man. A human being, yes, but more specifically, a man. He tries (a little) to be unsexist in his pronouns, but he saves his "shes" for examples of music and art. He mentions one female crack mechanic (and I'm thinking she's a lesbian).

He did something I thought was kind of in-your-face. Addressing a polite Seattle audience, most of whom had only the most passing familiarity even to references to popular TV shows, he said, Sometimes when confronted with an intractable motor, you just have to light a cigarette and walk around it.

A cigarette? In Seattle?

In the book (which I read in 24 hours), he talks about dirty jokes and the job site. I'll bet he owns a gun. As I read, I felt I was getting an anthropological tour of how men once were, before -- dare I say it? -- women started trying to civilize them. Awesome, literally.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm Annoyed Being a Girl

So normally, I like being a woman, and I'm proud of my ability to tackle household jobs. But I swear, the men have rigged things when it comes to handyman stuff. I remember how proud I was when I lived in California and had a huge garden, and bought my very own chipper so I could grind up my garden clippings and branches and small trees all by myself! Except that I could never start the goll-darn thing, which had one of those rope-pulls like lawnmowers have. Grrr!

When I moved to my Seattle apartment 15 months ago, I bought a power drill/screwdriver. It's compact, so you don't have to be a he-man to hold it up high, as I needed to do to hang my little shelf thing.

I knew to drive pilot holes, but I didn't want them too big, because then wouldn't they pull out? In any case, my compact drill wouldn't do it. I think my studs are 109 years old, and wood gets hard at that age. So I asked Stan the Painter Man who is working on the house next door if by chance his painter van held a power screwdriver I could use. It sure did,but that one was too heavy and bulky to get up under the trim on my shelf thing. In the end, I had to ask MH to come help me once again. The shelf is now hung, and sparkly with my china and wineglasses.

I'm still waiting to hang my paintings and a couple of platters on the walls. I borrowed a stud finder from a woman friend, but the battery was missing. Yesterday, I got so frustrated with this! I tried two AA batteries, which were too big to fit, then two AAA batteries, which rattled around in there. But there were a + and a - sign on the unit, so it must need two batteries, right?

Then today I thought, Maybe a 9 volt will work. I found one, but I guess it's old, because it only worked long enough to assure me that a new one will do the trick. So that's progress. I'm off for a fresh battery.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wherever You Go...

...there you are.

Yes, that's how far along I am on settling in, far enough to start thinking about what constitutes my real life. Oh, I've been dancing all through the move, though I skipped Friday night, the day of, but I danced Saturday, and last night, Wednesday, was the monthly blues jam at Conor Byrne in Ballard, and you can't miss that. And Sunday I dropped everything to leave at 7:15 am with Mike and Heidi for Port Townsend's Rhody Tour: Six hours of driving and waiting for ferries to ride 31 miles in 2 1/2 hours -- but a fine 31 miles it was, and a good time with friends.

On Tuesday morning, I went to short-story class, and that afternoon, my new neighbor Nancy and I walked downtown, me to PCC, her to return a rental key. I tutored yesterday. Tonight, it's Seattle Art Walk and a Town Hall lecture. Uh huh, it's all coming back to me now, my real life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Lucky Life

As I write this morning, Stan the painter man has just arrived next door. The bedraggled exterior of my neigbors' home, which comprises the view from my bedroom window, is being painted. Gosh, I'm lucky.

When I moved to Fremont 15 months ago, two friends who came to visit wanted me to upgrade my profile, and suggested my tagline should be, "Good things keep happening to me." (My idea was "Smart, active grownup seeks same.") Anyway, good things sure do keep happening to me. Is there a reason? Sure, God loves me, but God loves everybody, right?

It's not so easy, moving, when you're sixty, and your friends are more or less your age. I didn't want to injure my friends or wear them out, so I hired a mover.

And it's not so easy, moving, when you're single. Who's got your back? Who will offer the encouraging word? Who will hold up the shelves and the pendant lamps while you drive in the screws or change the wires? Who'll share your champagne? You can't hire that.

Me, I got lucky. I'm thinking of these things:

1. Finding an affordable

2. vintage but perfectly restored home in

3. my favorite walkable, bus-able neighborhood, with

4. a friend moving in upstairs, who is turning out to be terrific: good boundaries, self-sufficient, easy, considerate....

5. Finding on a telephone-pole flyer a mover who is affordable and provides and takes away the packing boxes.

6. My Hero! My friend who knew to say from the get-go, "I'll be at your beck and call," assuring me I could ask any old job of him -- what a relief! I was kicking myself, though, for asking him first to take bags of clothes to the Goodwill drop, and then groceries to my new place: What kind of a he-man with (perhaps) heroic aspirations wants assignments like that?

But it did mean he was at my new place before me, and when I got there, his vase of irises greeted me. The flowers are lovely, but I have to say, what continues to impress me most is the foresight a vase required on moving day, to have thought, as he must have, that it could be days before I'd unearth even a drinking glass adequate to hold those long-legged dutch iris -- his favorite flowers, he said.

He was calm all day. I said once (at least), "I'm getting nervous about these movers. They said it looked like a three-hour job, and it's going so slowly." MH said, "Don't even think about it." So I just didn't.

He prepped for and painted most of my new bedroom. Pink.

When it became apparent that the narrow entry door and halls and angles that accompany the vintage charm of my new home were making it impossible to bring in my couch, MH quietly and unobtrusively started sizing things up. He checked to see if the couch could come in through the front window: no, won't open enough. What if we turn the couch this way? or this?

Finally, he figured out how the legs could be sawed off and what it would take to replace them later. The movers had a Sawzall in the truck; they carried on moving while MH took on the sofa, which also included the job of removing the sleeper-bed innards.

Anyway, they finally got it in. At four, MH had to leave for a job, but said he'd be back around 7. I had planned to buy us dinner out, but we agreed to defer it and eat roast chicken from the fridge and vegetables from the freezer, with most of a bottle of champagne. I was ready, by then, to ignore the pendant lamp that still needed to be changed out at the old place, but he said, "Let's get it done." He left at 9:40 pm, promising to return the next afternoon to restore my couch.

I made omelets for lunch and we got the couch back together. To celebrate, we sat on it and passed the last of the champagne in the bottle back and forth. I loved that.

7. Just a word about movers Eric and Felipe. They never took a break. When finally the tea kettle and toaster emerged, I made tea and toasted my homemade bread and we stood in the kitchen for a break with peanut butter toast and berry jam.

Finally, you know how sometimes when you move into a place, you start noticing its shortcomings? Honestly, I've had nary a moment of buyer's remorse. Instead, I'm discovering the tinkling bell sound of the oven timer, the quietness of the fridge and dishwasher, the hidden lights under the upper kitchen cupboards, the light switch that turns on the lamps on both sides of the bed.

Oh, I'm a fortunate woman. A lucky girl.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies