Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plugging KBCS

I really don't want to be a person who's always plugged in to her earbuds. I like hearing real life on the bus and the sidewalks, and I feel safer unplugged on my bike.

But Seattle doesn't make it easy, because we have great radio! I'll never forget when the ex and I moved to Port Townsend in 2001 and discovered that public radio at 88.5 played nothing but blues from six to midnight every Saturday and Sunday. I said to Jon, It's a sign. We're in the right place.

I still listen.

But right now, I'm listening to DJ Marte Bisch on KBCS. I had kind of thought, shall I email a request for a Lyle Lovett song? No, I'll just say, "Keep playing what you're playing."

So I sent that email and, guess what? Right now he's playing Lyle! Who's channeling whom?

However, I have to head out on the bus in a few minutes. I'm head cook for tonight's community dinner at St Paul's Queen Anne. (Come on over; 5:30 we eat.)

Is that John Hiatt now?! I don't know if I can leave this music. I might have to plug in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

All My Sons

The Intiman is back!

I was so disappointed by recent plays -- The Scarlet Letter, apparently written by somebody who never read the novel, and The Doctor in Spite of Himself, farced up beyond all meaning -- that I was almost afraid to show up to usher last night at one of the final previews of All My Sons.

I've seen that play, and the memorable line the title comes from echoed in my mind, long after I'd forgotten where I saw the play. I knew the Intiman was making changes: relocating it to Seattle, within an African-American family instead of whites. I was praying they hadn't screwed it up.

And they emphatically have not. I'd have to look at the script to see exactly what lines have been changed, and there must be some, because there's a black swagger onstage that can't be original. But basically, the family is a believably prosperous one in Seattle just after World War II. The questions the play raises about the conflict between commitment to the good of one's family versus the larger human family are perhaps heightened by our awareness that the "common good" for so long has taken little account of African Americans. But what I loved more was seeing conflicts anyone can relate to portrayed in microcosm by a family that just happens to be black.

It's a riveting story about money and what it does to us, from the women who want financially sucessful husbands to the men who make money, honestly and dishonestly, from the material of war.

Somewhere in this play, you'll see yourself.

The acting is uniformly excellent, but Kate, the matriarch, stands out. If ticket sales can do anything to put the Intiman's finances back on a firm footing, this show deserves to make it happen. I may go again myself.

The notes on the Intiman website include this quote from the playwright, Arthur Miller: “I don’t see how you can write anything decent without using the question of right and wrong as the basis.” 

To me, that's the acorn from which successful theater grows.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More than a Bakery

When I was at the back bar at Macrina's last week, a man -- not a fat man, either -- sat down with a latte and two apparently identical scones, and ate them both. I couldn't help but admire the forthrightness of this. No dithering.

Both finishing around the same time, we fell into conversation. [And may I say here, though he wasn't wearing a wedding ring, and I think a married person should do that, he quickly got a reference to his wife into the conversation. Some guys will chat you up for an hour with no indication of a "we." Playtime, I guess.]

Anyway, Paul told me he comes in about once a week, but couldn't help much when it came to recommending treats: all he eats are citrus-oat scones.

I said, They ought to have a tasting event sometime, where you pay a set fee and get to graze on bites. He said he knows the owner, he'll suggest it.

I asked him what he did that he could hang out at Macrina Bakery at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning. Architect, semi-voluntarily enjoying the downturn, with the agreement that while his wife supports the household singlehandedly for a while, he'll do the home maintenance that's been deferred for 20 years.

How's it going? I said.

Motivation is hard, he said, but he knows what to do. He's hiring a helper to show up at 8:30 every morning. So he'll have to be ready with a task list, equipment, and supplies.

Smart plan. Sometimes it's hard to apply your professional skills to your own life. I've had that problem.

We talked about the fun of doing things and going places alone. I told him about the TC Boyle lecture, how singles look with confidence for the buffer seats people leave open. He reminded me that even in sparsely-filled halls, couples have to talk over where to sit. And like at FolkLife or Bumbershoot, he said, you find yourself remaining at a marginal performance for the sake of your companion, only to discover later that she stayed for you.

Right, I said, I felt so light walking up here today, no one to consider but myself. And yet, after awhile, single is easy. It's partnership that looks like an alluring challenge.

Paul said, "My yoga teacher says if you tend to assume a pose from the left, try it from the right, and see what opens up for you."

All that, and a brioche too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poetry, the Movie

Usually I like going to things on my own, but yesterday wasn't one of those days. Nevertheless, I kicked my butt out the door at 7:15 and walked over to Seven Gables movie theater to see the Korean film, Poetry.

It's wonderful, surprising and yet believable. The main character is an aging woman who talks her way into an already-full poetry class. As a writer myself, I thought, where did this story come from? Perhaps the screenwriter was in a poetry class, and, curious, began making up the story of a classmate. How she cares for her unappreciative grandson, goes to a doctor for a tingly arm, and is diagnosed with first-stage Alzheimers. The serious problems she faces and deals with on her own, with determination and creativity and dignity.

Poetry is filled with characters so real you feel more like you've been on a vacation in another country than in a movie. A movie you wish you'd seen with somebody, so you could talk about all that. And yet, one you're glad you didn't miss, just because you had to come alone.

I pulled on all my layers for the walk home and turned to leave. And there were two friends of mine! And we all went to Mollie Moon for ice cream.

A happy ending.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Macrina Bakery, Queen Anne: First Impressions

Inspired by my visit to Elliott Bay Books' cookbook section, I Googled Macrina Bakery, which led me to three Seattle locations, the nearest on West McGraw in Queen Anne.

What? West of Queen Anne Av? I didn't know there was anything down there past Third Av where the #13 bus turns toward Fremont. When the sun came out yesterday morning, I hoofed it over, planning to arrive deserving calories.

Down the Fremont Hill, across the bridge, up and over I weewawed my way to yet another Seattle neighborhood. Beneath what appeared to be a suicidally small and insignificant sign, I found a cafe so full of people there was room for me only at the back bar.

The staff is pleasant, the choices painful: everything looks good, and there are lots of different kinds of everything. Portions and prices are reasonable. Muffins are $2.25 apiece, for example. I paid $3 for a Nutella brioche. My sister Sarah loves Nutella. Maybe I've never had it; I found it sugary.

The paintings of Carolyn Goodenough decorate the walls this week. The writer in me wants to appropriate that name for a character: Ms Goodenough. But for an artist? Overly obvious.

Which is probably why Ms Goodenough's paintings are hanging, and Ms Perfect's are still being fretted over back at the studio.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dangerous Elliott Bay Books

If you don't have a shopping budget, there are places you must avoid. I knew not to hang out in Elliott Bay Books, but it hadn't occurred to me that their cafe would be dangerous.

Actually, I was in trouble before I sat down. I've signed up for a writing class at Hugo House that requires a textbook. I found it at Elliott Bay. This put me in the writing section, but I have a bunch of writing books already. I wasn't sure even the required book would be worth reading.

Nearby, however, was a table full of essays about the writing life. I was drawn to a beautiful cover painting featuring chiaroscuro raspberries fading into brownness. The book is Imagination in Place by Wendell Berry ("berry" -- get it?).

I admire Berry, not only his writing, but the ethical, largely local life he chooses to live. I'd like him to earn royalties. I bought that one too.

By then it was time to meet my friend in the cafe. She's a real writer, so after the inspiration of our literary conversation, I stuck around and wrote a little on the lined notebook paper I fold to fit my pocket and carry everywhere.

When I looked up, Oh. Books everywhere. Closest were foodie books: essays about food, and cookbooks, and books about eating your way through Paris and Italy. I folded my paper. I rose.

Hey, here's a Macrina Bakery book! That's the place that makes the bread for the cafe here and the irresistible cinnamon raisin brioche slice I get at Herkimer. But geez, their own published cookbook? If Macrina Bakery is such a big deal, how come I haven't come across it in my two years in Seattle?

This is about to change.

Another unexpected bookstore budget hazard.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Men Are the Way They Are

Why Men Are the Way They Are. It's a book title. I kept seeing it on my friend's stack. But how many books about men and relationships does a woman need to read? Don't I know enough?

Ultimately, I couldn't resist.

If I weren't such a TV snob, I'd have heard 25 years ago of author Warren Farrell and "the provocative book that sparked so much controversy on the Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey shows!"

I wish I had.

Here's the chief point: The feminist movement as I know it, the movement of the '60s and '70s, framed the battles in a way that, like most wars I suppose, simply set the stage for more conflict. Because instead of settling for equality for ourselves, we let our anger and pain into channels where we cut men down. We wanted men to be less than us.

For most of us, it was subtle. We didn't give up men; we still wanted them. But secretly, we felt we were better. Remember "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle"? We still feel we're better.

I do love men, but even so, his chapter, "What I love most about men," has been alive in me since I read it.

First, a man wrote those words, "what I love about men"! We haven't really yet made a society where a straight man can say that. And it's not just the men who would find it embarrassing.

And then the things he lists. We women know what we love about us: we're good listeners, nurturing, able to work long hours at jobs and at home, determined to exercise and eat right so we'll look and feel good, and so on.

But when we read Farrell's list, we see mostly things we take for granted. Driving the car, for example.

In couples I've been part of, the assumption is, he'll drive. When it's late and you're both tired. When the weather is scary. When traffic is endless. If the woman drives, it's because he asks her to do what both assume is his job.

Which is exactly the kind of taken-for-granted attitude women in the '60s and '70s were so annoyed and angry about: The assumption that a man in the kitchen is doing a favor.

Farrell points out that when men try to solve our problems and want to fix things for us, it's nurturing behavior. I complain when a man jumps over the listening phase to the problem-solving phase, but I'm not sure I'd ever have gotten my cupboard hung straight if my hero had just sat there nodding sympathetically as I explained my problems with the electric drill. Plus, I've found when I ask a man for some listening, I get it.

Biggest of all, Farrell says women put men in a bind. We gripe if work keeps them too busy, too tired, on the road, competitive, but men know women like guys with nice cars and homes, men who buy good champagne and plane tickets to Paris. And you don't get that kind of financial success and security without making work a priority.

I drive a 1996 Corolla, my sweetheart a slightly younger Subaru. I like this. I think it shows a commonality of values. But last summer when I flew home from Mom's in Michigan, his car had broken down and he picked me up at the airport in his son's flashy new sportscar convertible, top down. I rolled my carry-on out of Arrivals, expecting the Subaru, and there was this handsome guy waving at me beside his splendid car and -- I felt it!

Just for a moment, but I felt it.

I'm thinking about dating. Those poor guys! We women complain about dating, the uncertainty and the disappointments, but the guys have all that plus the expense. Almost every woman I know believes a guy ought to pick up the tab for the first date -- at least!

And even if that's just coffee and a pastry, we're talking $10-20.

We think we're so advanced if we tell a man we want to pay our share or even to treat occasionally. But does a man get credit for enlightenment if he suggests you split the tab?

So, thanks Dr. Farrell. I'm going to be a masculist now. Which isn't even a word.

Exactly my point.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Remember that you are dust...

It's Ash Wednesday, noon service on my calendar. I thought the rain was letting up, but I see it slanting north against the dark of the blowing evergreens across the street. The thingy that vents my stove hood or dryer or whatever has been irregularly POP POP POPping in time to the gusts all morning long.

But the sky is brightening again, as it did 10 minutes ago, temporarily, in the south, the direction I'm headed on my bike. Yes, down there towards Dexter, where I read this morning a warning from Cascade Bike Club that a new construction project began Monday. Cyclists beware.

Okay, I'm suiting up. But why? I mean, Why not drive? What does it mean to me to brave these elements?

Two hours later:

Really, I decided, there's such a thing as being sensible! You could slip on that wet pavement or get blown right out into traffic.

I took the bus.

In the shelter of the church, rain thundered down on the clerestory windows. It gushed into our courtyard.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," our rector repeated as she thumbed onto our foreheads a cross of ash. Ash from the burning of last year's Palm Sunday palms. Ashes, after the parade.

In Bird by Bird, our rector said, Anne Lamott talks about living and writing as if we're dying, which, of course, we are. She says to herself, when words won't come, "Hmm. Dying tomorrow. What shall I say today?"

What popped into my mind: Dying tomorrow? I should have ridden my bike.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Riding the Bus


Enough already about Gretchen Rubin and the Happiness Project, maybe you're thinking, but have you seen this?

PS: I get that it's not exactly about buses, but it is too about buses.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Back when I was new...

"Grrr! It looked so simple on Mapquest! I can see 45th Street from home, so how hard can it be to carry on until it crosses 48th Avenue?"

It was though, two years ago when I moved to Seattle, sixty years old, single, city-shy when it came to finding my way by car.

I drove down the hill on 45th below the university -- oh, look at that huge shopping center!  -- and came to a sort of slanted tee. I checked the street sign across it, just to be sure I was still good: "Montlake Avenue"?! Where did 45th go?

The answer, I now know, is "leftish."

I was remembering all this last night with warm nostalgia, from the comfort of knowing exactly how to reach St Stephen's Episcopal for the first-Sundays choral evensong. I was affronted, that first time, that my boldness in search of the peace of evensong was unrewarded. Instead, I was anxious about being lost in the winding streets of Laurelhurst, annoyed that I'd be late, worried that I'd disturb the peace of those who knew enough to get there on time.

Even late, though, I got my peace in that holy space full of Bach and the thoughtful, often ancient poetry of the Book of Common Prayer.

I've been back numerous times, even considered making St Stephen's my church. I took my bike buddy with me once, back when we were still figuring out what kind of friends we were going to be.

G went with me last night, G, the quintessentially spiritual-but-not-religious. He loves good music though.

Two years in, it's a special pleasure to be holding dear and counting over my greenhorn memories. Back when I first moved to Seattle....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Excursion to Madrona

We wanted to enjoy Saturday's sunny weather on our bikes. My sweetheart's great-niece and her family have just moved into a new home in the Mount Baker neighborhood. Since we often bike to adjacent Seward Park, we thought we'd add in a little side trip to see the new place. (We hear there'll be a ping-pong table downstairs, and I'm into that, so I'm trying to keep track of move-in progress.) We weren't even sure they'd be home, but if they were, we didn't want to accidentally arrive at lunch and make them feel obligated to feed us. (Actually, my sweetheart worries about this kind of thing more than I do. I figure if people don't want to feed you, they won't.) Anyway, we decided to avoid the problem entirely by finding ourselves a cafe stop in Madrona on the way.

I'm amazed that I'm still finding brand-new named neighborhoods in Seattle. They call us a city of neighborhoods, but will they never end? Madrona is a new one on me; I wasn't completely sure where it is, but G did the map work, and off we biked. After some thrilling ups and downs and a few groovy alleyways, we came to 34th and Cherry, I think it was, and a couple blocks with restaurants and cafes all along. We locked our bikes and chose Cafe Soleil, well named as sun poured in the windows on two sides.

It's a simple place, and the ceiling is peeling badly, but it's so high, you might not notice. And we found it charming, wishing one of us had a smartphone so we could snap a photo of the three matching tea canisters lined up side-by-side, each tiltinga little differently from the next on a cattywompus shelf beneath three matching teapots that appeared, each one, to be only half there, maybe because they were painted black and white, part of each pot blending into the white cupboard?

He got eggy food, I got wonderful French toast with sauteed apple and real maple syrup, and we split a cafe au lait.

An Ethiopian woman owns the place, and they serve Ethiopian food at night, injera and the whole production. We'd like to go back, next time we need another vacation in Seattle.

PS: The relatives weren't home, but we enjoyed sitting on their stoop. And oh yeah: I got another flat.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happiness Project

I really like Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. She has so many good ideas! I find if I'm a bit less than my usual upbeat self, like today when I had to change my bike tube again, I check her website.

Here's what converted me the first time I looked, her second "truth of happiness" or something like that:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Turn that over in your mind for awhile. It's the infinity bracelet of happiness.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

T.C. Boyle

Once again, it was the good old Seattle Times Northwest Weekend section that alerted me to TC Boyle's appearance last night at our central library branch. I jumped on the bus and went.

You can tell the single folks: we expect to get seats. Single seats are easy. Row Two.

Boyle was professional and polished. He appeared in his signature smooth yellow sports coat and red high-tops, a clasp earring in his left ear, one forelock carefully partitioning our view of his forehead. He told us what he was going to do, and he did it, and did it well: Established the factual background of his new novel, When the Killing's Done, two environmentalists with warring approaches to reestablishing nature's balance on one of the uninhabited -- by humans -- Channel Islands. Then, via a reading from Chapter One, introduced one of the characters, the perpetually angry one. Then read us a story, The Lie, published a couple years ago in The New Yorker. Then answered questions, signed books.

I'd call him a fussy man, utterly clear on his preferences, mature enough to accept himself and the inconveniences posed by others. He was gracious in the Q&A, and that must take kindness and patience. "What inspires you?" he was asked. I cringed.

But what does inspire him? I think it was in response to this that he told us about being alone in a mountain cabin to relax after finishing a major project and -- starting again to write. I guess everything inspires him, everything looks like a story.

My favorite of Boyle's fifteen or so novels, not that I've read them all, is The Tortilla Curtain, about illegal immigration -- the need and ambition and plight of the immigrants, against the American dream in a safe, gated community, in alternate chapters. I found it riveting. My ex dubbed it "pulp fiction."

I read Drop City, about hippie communes, and one that moves to Alaska. I've never been colder than the year my ex and I listened to Boyle's Alaska on tape as Jon drove and I knitted our way from California back to our new, frozen home in Port Townsend. We spent a night in our camper at the mall in Olympia, stopped by so much snow, the movie theater was closed.

Talk, Talk, is a suspense novel where the victim is profoundly deaf and profoundly committed to the meaning of it, in a way I never before understood.

The Inner Circle, about Kinsey and his cohort, about what sex is and isn't.

As I said to my sweetheart when we spoke on the phone afterwards, "Boyle was prepared, he was entertaining -- but, no passion."

He did say, "Don't invest in any sushi places," since he thinks climate change will leave us soon with nothing but tilapia.

Maybe his passion is all on the page. Maybe his high spirits are hard won. He doesn't write us black, but gray, with fondness. Maybe, like Balzac, he's writing his own Comedie Humaine; it's just harder to take when time is running out.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies