Sunday, May 30, 2010

More on Housebound

I finished the first two books for my Housebound adventure. (I'm reading only the books already in our house for one year, except those ones I need to read for school, work, or research for a writing project.) I've written an essay about the first two, but I'm not going to post all the essays. I've almost finished the second set of books, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. I'll write a piece on them. Then it's on to the next ones: Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade by Christopher Benfey. We have some very cool books around our house.

Read more here...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Winners Abound!

Mario won another short story award! Yay, my man! First prize. I'll let you know more when I know more. He is on a roll. He writes a story a week and sends it out the same week he writes it. He also has several novels he's sending around to publishers. He is a dedicated man, and he's an inspiration. He just keeps on going!

And I got the nicest rejection from an editor yesterday. I'm not kidding. Mostly I only notice whether a rejection says yay or nay and I ignore the rest. In fact, I'm so bad about this that Mario generally reads my rejections to see if there's something important in the note, like, "if you add one sentence I'll buy this."

That actually happened.

Years ago, Mario read a rejection that I had tossed out, and he said, "Kim, he says if you add a sentence to the end, he'll buy it."

Oh. All right then.

Anyway this rejection I got yesterday was so long that I read it. (And I had Mario read it, too.) I figured if she had put that much effort and time into the letter, she must have thought a lot about the book. And she had. She had many nice things to say and she pinpointed one of the problems I'd been having with the book and proposed a solution. Yes!

So I'm going to read the book again with her notes in hand and see what I can do.

Fun stuff.

Happy Full Moon!

Read more here...

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dogwood Birds Sang Today

Mario and I went out to Falling Creek today, only our second time this season. It has been so cold and so rainy that we haven't been able to get out. But today we bundled up and went out into the Gifford Pinchot.

The whole world seemed all water and green today. So many shades of green. That nearly fluorescent green of the new growth on the tips of various pine trees. The deep dark green of the Doug firs. The blue-green of some of the spruce trees. The shiny jade green of the Oregon grape. The lime-green of the vine maples and dogwood leaves.

All of the green was touched with water, and the sound of water came from all around as we walked the trail that went alongside the creek.

I saw gray, too, in the forest. Shocking gray trunks of trees I don't even name because I am so entranced by the brightness of the gray: by the jewel-like color of the gray where the sun touches it. I point out the spot-lit gray trunk to Mario and we ooh and ahh. I think of my own white-gray hair. I remember getting my first gray hair when I was twelve. My father went prematurely gray in his twenties. So many people look at me, all white now since my early forties, and see nothing but the gray. See nothing but old.

As if being old is bad.

The trail is muddy. A kind of red mud. Not like in New Mexico. Not that hot dry red that is soothing and exciting all at the same time. This is a deeper red. A red that can hardly lay claim to red because it is so brown.

We find one blooming bear grass. Only one. The sharp shining leaves grow up from the ground, like green hair on some science fiction creature whose body is all hair, all green, scurrying around very low to the forest floor. It's unusual to find only one flowering. Usually when one blooms, hundreds bloom, each flower growing up from the center of the grass hillock on a single stalk, stopping two or three feet above the grass, looking like a white flame. When this happens, you can stand in one place and look through the woods and see these bear grass flowers lighting up the forest.

The bear grass aren't blooming, but the dogwoods are. We stop and gasp as we look around. The white bracts of the dogwoods hang in the air all around us like flocks of stilled white birds. We can't see the actual trees or the branches, most of the time, just the bracts, which I learned some years ago aren't exactly the petals of the flower. They're more like leaves, even though they're white and look like petals. They surround the actual flowers which, in the case of Pacific Dogwood, are tiny and greenish.

Doesn't matter what they're called. They look like birds. Or sometimes if I'm close enough, they look like hundreds of lotus flowers hanging from the sky. Sometimes I imagine a Bodhisattva or Buddha in the middle of each of them, meditating serenely. More often I see birds. And lights. The white bracts are lights in the forest, and this year they are everywhere.

Mario and I walk and talk and gaze all around us. Normally we try to hike in silence. But today so much chatter is in my brain and it spills out as we walk. Disappointments. Fears. Irritations. Grief over the oil catastrophe in the Gulf.

We stop to count the deer's head orchids. We are here so late that we've missed most of them. Today we find only twenty-five. Each and every sighting feels like a gift, like every time I see a hummingbird or every time Mario walks into a room where I am.

It is a glorious day.

We stare at the falls when we reach them. Someone has carved letters into the cedar tree near the falls. Deep into the red wood. I feel so angry. And disappointed. What does the tree feel? Did the vandal damage the cambium of the tree?

I ask Mario if he ever carved his name into anything. He says, "No, I never had that kind of ego."

I said, "I had that kind of ego, but I knew a tree was a living thing and it could be damaged."

I wouldn't want someone carving into my skin.

I don't understand this disconnection people have with nature. Sometimes I don't like people. And I don't like not liking them. I'm a pack animal. I want to love my pack.

Mario and I hold hands and start the journey back. I keep thinking about the scarred tree. How could we teach people to have empathy with the natural world? How could we get people to see themselves as part of nature and what they did to the part they did to the whole?

Mario does not think about the tree as we walk. He has let it go. Nothing he can do about it. I admire his abilities. I don't seem to have them. I want to fix the tree and find the vandals.

We continue to walk.

The dogwood birds fly all around us. They are silent and still even as they move in the forest breeze. They make me feel wild and settled all at the same time.

Mario and I laugh together, giddy that we get to witness this wonderful blossoming. This white amongst the green.

The creek next to us turns and dips and gurgles.

We are almost out of the woods when I think I hear the dogwood birds singing.

I stop and listen.

Their songs sound just like my heartbeat.

Read more here...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Am Lost

I'm watching the Lost finale, and I've never seen so many commmercials. They are really ruining the flow of the story. Bad form, people.

P.S. Somehow watched Lost in spite of the commercials and it was the dumbest ending of any show in history. It was exactly what many of us feared it was from the very first season. I suppose the point was suppose to be some of us take longer to let go. Well, after six years of this, I'm definitely letting go of Lost. Worst ever.

Read more here...


Let me say first that I don't normally like Clint Eastwood movies. They never seem true, and they're always so dark and depressing, and I don't trust his vision. I swore that I would never watch another Clint Eastwood movie after I saw the wretched Changeling. But I was interested in the story of Invictus so we rented it today and watched it.

It's about the South African rugby team's attempt to win the World Cup in 1995. In 1994, during Mandela's first year in office, they were going to disband the Springboks who were especially hated by Black South Africans. But Mandela spoke up for them, telling his supporters that they must be a united South Africa, and in the end, they were not disbanded. Mandela took an interest in the team, believing if he could get Black and white South Africans to cheer for the team, it would help bring the country together.

The movie was good, probably because the story is fabulous and inspiring. What Mandela was able to do—to forgive those who had kept him imprisoned for three decades—is amazing. I don't think I could have done it. As I watched this movie, I thought, wow, I want Mandela to be president of the world. But more importantly, wouldn't it be great if we could all act with our own measure of grace and wisdom as we live our lives? Although his blood doesn't technically run through my veins, I think of Mandela as a grandfather. He is an inspiration to the world.

The title of the movie is taken from a poem by English writer William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Read more here...

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I haven't written much about the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico here. (I did on Facebook, but I've quit FB due to privacy concerns.)

I've been in such grief over it that I haven't known what to say. Or more importantly, I haven't known what to do. I encourage everyone to call the White House and your elected representatives and tell them this has gone on too long. It's been over a month. What's happening there is a crime. The administration has been naive, at the very least, for trusting BP to take care of this.

The best engineers in the world should have been called out right away to figure out how to fix it. Although, in truth, offshore drilling should never have been allowed UNLESS something like this wasn't possible. And it's always been possible, that's why people were against it. I keep hearing officials (BP and otherwise) keep up the mantra, "We never expected anything like this." They're either lying or they are so amazingly ignorant that they should all be fired.

Accidents happen. Someone gets into a car and the road is slippery and they crash. That is an accident. Someone is drunk and gets into a car with bad brakes and crashes into a group of people and injures and kills them. That is NOT an accident. That is a crime. What has happened in the Gulf is a crime and it continues to be a crime. Now let's put it on the books and clearly make it a crime.

I'm tired of amoral disconnected people running the world. The politicians and BP all keep talking about money. Money, money, money. Money got us into this mess. Greedy people not doing their jobs got us into this mess. Money isn't going to make this whole. The wetlands of Louisiana are dying, some are dead.

Wetlands are amazing ecosystems that filter water and can clean up many toxins on their own, as long as they are healthy and thriving. Being deluged with oily will kill them. Has killed many of them already.

I don't understand how or why the American people are still in the thrall of big business. I don't understand why the American people don't stand up and say enough. This should have never happened. But for some reason, the American people—maybe everyone on the planet–seem helpless and useless to stop these corporate behemoths.

We need a revolution. Now. A clear decisive revolution. Not to overthrow the government. But to overthrow the corporate fascism that now runs the country and the world. Only the people can do it.

Read more here...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mario News!!!

Mario's fabulous story "Untied States of America" is the lead story in the current Interzone magazine! Yay, Mar. He also just won a short story contest, and you can find the awesome winning story, "Cold Comfort," here. Way to go, man o' mine.

Read more here...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Plutocracy and Democracy Don't Mix

I love Bill Moyers. Here are the transcripts of Bill Moyers last show on the Journal. After he talked to Jim Hightower, he gave his farewell.

He says, "Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don't try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don't mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy.

"Plutocracy is not an American word but it's become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side. By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly 'bang the drum on plutonomy.'

"...And so they were, before the great collapse of 2008. And so they are, today, after the fall. While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street.

"Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding....It hasn't mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street's bidding.

"...This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year.

"So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.

"Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs.

"So along with Jim Hightower and Iowa's concerned citizens, and many of you, I am biased: democracy only works when we claim it as our own."

I can only agree and add, "Community only works when we claim it as our own."

Read more here...


The sun is out even though the sky is overcast. There must be a patch of blue that I can't see from my vantage point. It's that kind of partially sunny day where sun seems to be turning on a spotlight here and there. The tree on the other side of the Methodist Church across the street is all lit up. The green near the top where the thin branches grow up and out is almost fluorescent. Further down the tree, where the branches are thicker, the green gets darker. The tree is still here. Peaceful. Still, overall, the tree reaches out. And out.

The big old maple on the school property kitty-corner from me grows up and up, probably twice as tall as the other tree, probably fifty feet up, with a trunk three of us could not encircle with our arms stretched to reach one another. Its branches don't reach up or out. They are just there, a part of the tree, sustenance no doubt flowing up from the ground and down from the sky. The difference in the lighting seems to make no difference to how this tree looks. Light or dark. It is solid. It is unmoving now, but I have seen it bend a bit in heavy wind.

The rhododendron next to my window holds its blossom close and closed. Most of them are green and egg-shaped with no hint of the flower within. On some closed blossoms the egg has cracked open enough to reveal the tips of ruby-colored fingers. Within days (a week?) the flower fingers will transform into full-blown flowers, like a slow-motion trick where the magician pulls flowers out of his top hat.

In the distance, beyond the small green tree, the gorge cliffs hunker, dark and old. They never move in the wind. They wear snow storms like a blanket in the winter. In the summer they are black and green and ever-present.

All seems peaceful in my little part of the world. That is comforting. Beyond, though, I know oil is flooding into the Gulf of Mexico.

What do we do during such catastrophes?

The best strategy would be prevent them from ever happening. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about thirty years ago. He was a pacifist, and I was young. I asked him, "But what do you do about people like Hitler?" He said you prevent him from ever getting into power. I agreed that would be great, but what then?

I don't think I ever got an answer from him.

Let's just decide prevention is the best offense to any catastrophe. We could argue that they should have never put oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Or we could argue if they did put them in they should have had in place every imaginable safety device.

But they didn't.

Now what?

Oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

When this first happened, I did some long distance energy work in the Gulf of Mexico. (We can have a conversation about energy work or long distance healing work another time. What it is, whether it works, whether I'm a crackpot or a crazy person. For now, just know that I did it.) What I saw and heard was that this was big and it was awful, and I needed to go back home and take care of my own people. I heard other things, but that again is for another conversation.

I came back from my journey and asked other people what they were doing and hearing. Some people said they were sending light and Reiki, some didn't think it was a good idea to get emotionally attached, and some people were angry and in grief.

As I listened to the responses, I tried to determine what resonated with me. When the United States went to war after 9/11, I dedicated years of my life trying to do whatever I could to stop it, end it. I co-created a peace group where I live. We organized marches. I participated in other marches and demonstrations. I wrote article after article, essay after essay. I wrote to my elected officials. I donated money. I did whatever I could do.

We still went to war, and I watched as our elected officials allowed the constitution to be shredded. I watched as thousands of people died in Iraq and hardly any Americans seemed to notice or care. So many Americans walked around with their fingers in their ears going, "Lalalala."

The disengagement of people around me was astonishing. Yet even though I was engaged, I was failing. I didn't stop the war. I was glad that I wasn't silent during those years. And yet, the war continued and continues. People are still dying. The American people are still oblivious.

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore, I was at first relieved that it did not hit land as a category 5 hurricane. Later I was appalled as the levies broke and the government failed. During this time, I felt absolutely helpless. What could I do? The story of Ruby's Imagine began to unfold. During the next year, I researched and wrote Ruby's story. I thought this is what I do: I write stories. It is part of my activism. It is part of the healing.

Years have passed. The environmental degradation gets worse. More people seem disengaged. More people seem to be running, running, running.

Maybe there is wisdom in stillness.

To be grounded like that old maple. Always. Wouldn't that be something?

But back to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. What did I think was the correct response for those of us who weren't there?

I do happen to think that sending healing energy can help a situation. There have been some studies which seem to indicate directed thought, directed intention, can make a difference. I do energy work. I've seen people healed and transformed by the work we do together. I've also put my hands on the hood of a car when it wouldn't start, and no matter how much I wanted the car to work, my hands on it was not going to do the trick.

One avenue does not lead to the truth. One path does not lead to the solution. Necessarily.

In fact, there probably isn't one solution to most problems.

One of my teachers once said, "There are some pretty dysfunctional activists out there. They need to come sit on a mountain and meditate. And all those people sitting on the mountain meditating need to get up and go out into the world."

I thought that was brilliant.

It's clear politicians cannot save us. They never could. This doesn't mean they are evil or all corrupt. They are part of the system. They need we the people to tell them what is important to us.

The capitalist system which brought us this oil flooding into the Gulf of Mexico is not going to save us. For this system, it's all about the money. The politicians and oil companies keep saying everything will be paid for. As if money is going to solve or heal this problem. No amount of money is going to make the Gulf of Mexico and environs whole again.

The only thing that will make the Gulf of Mexico whole again is us. We have to decide as a community of human beings that we include the Gulf of Mexico in our community. We have to decide that that forest over there is part of our community. We have to decide that those wolves over here are part of our family. We have to decide that our comfort and our needs do not supersede everything and everyone.

A dog eat dog world does not work. In the end, only one dog remains, and he's alone with indigestion.

Every day I hope they figure out how to stop the oil in the Gulf. Oil spewing into any body of water will kill it. If the oil spreads into the ocean, it could kill the oceans. Then we would truly understand that we are ultimately connected to everything: If the oceans die, we die.

One day last week, I was so in grief over what was happening in the Gulf and my feeling of helplessness that I curled up on the couch and could barely move most of the day. I was nearly paralyzed.

I realized this is why most people don't think about these things: They are trying to get through the day without coming to terms with the truth and becoming paralyzed.

I got up off the couch. I began researching. I decided I needed to get the skills to help people change their lives practically. I would learn how to make homes and businesses "greener," healthier, more a part of the land and the environment. We need a sea change on how we live our lives. But people are overwhelmed. They don't know what to do. I could learn to cut through the fog of information and misinformation and help design a better world. A world where we understand we are not separate from Nature. A world where we create sustainable communities. A world where each of us understands that it is our responsibility and our great honor to let our voice be heard.

It's true I've tried to live my life sustainably. I've tried creating community before. I've tried to heal and change the world with my writing. But now I hope to get more hands-on experience and skills to do the down and dirty work of creation more successfully.

This is a long way of saying that I'm going back to school for ecological design and planning. This is a long way of saying that this is what I am doing in response to the oil churning into the Gulf of Mexico.

What about you?

Read more here...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life Changes

I have decided to go back to school to get a graduate certificate in ecological design and planning up in Seattle. My hope is that this will give me skills to be a part of my community in more practical and meaningful ways and at the same time it will give me skills to help me earn a living! I'm very excited about this. It's a nine month program which I may do in a year so that my winter writing retreat isn't shortened.

This shouldn't impact my writing negatively. In fact, it may reinvigorate my nonfiction writing career. We'll see what happens! I'll be commuting to Seattle once a month, so it will be interesting. I'm looking for places to stay and financing. They don't do a lot of scholarships for graduate programs. It's not very expensive, though, so hopefully we can swing it. I hope you wish me prosperity, good health, safety, and fun! I'll wish you the same, in any case. And I'll let you know how it all goes. It's all an adventure.

P.S. And since I'm not Facebooking, I plan on posting here regularly again.

Read more here...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Housebound: A Year of Reading Dangerously


I am always searching for the answers to life's mysteries.

Either that or I'm trying to avoid something.

In any case, I often search in books. I buy books, I get books from the library, I write books.

I have been certain most of my life that something in a book will save my life, or at the very least, something in a book will entertain me.

I try to avoid clutter in my life as much as I can. This isn't always possible. I am often surrounded by paper, either because of research I'm doing for a writing project or work I'm doing for the library.

I'm a writer, a reader, and a librarian. My husband works for a library, and he's a writer and a reader, too.

We've got us some books.

I'm not much of a consumer. I buy food, and I buy books. New books. Used books. Fortunately for us we live an hour from one of the best bookstores in the country: Powell's Books.

When I'm done with books, I often take them to Powell's to sell. I figure books are like clothes: If I haven't used them in a year, I should probably get rid of them.

I usually sell a bunch when I'm short of cash or when I want to change my life. (Like getting rid of books is going to change my life.) My way of thinking is: those old books sitting on my shelf didn't help me, so I'm going to get some new books.

One Saturday I looked around my house and decided willy-nilly that I was going to find one hundred books to sell. I walked through our little rented house and began pulling books off the shelves.

The more I looked, the more I realized I had a lot of books I hadn't read. A lot of interesting books. I'd bought them because, at the time, I thought I would learn something that would rock my world or I'd have some fun. Now I wanted to get rid of them for something new--some new book that I'd look at in the store and suddenly believe that it would solve some longstanding problem of mine. But there was probably a 50-50 probability that that same book would sit on the shelf and in another year or six months, I'd be looking to sell it so I could get something new.

Seemed like something was wrong with this system. I wasn't a proponent of the consumer culture, but here I was buying, buying, buying. And to what end?

I didn't need any more stuff.

Including books.

At least not right this second.

I had a thought: What if I limited myself to reading only the books I already had in my house for one year?

I didn't know if I could do it. I probably bought a new book or two every week. Recently Steve Jobs made some remark about people only reading one book a year. I couldn't imagine that was true, but if it was, that meant I was reading about a hundred people's share. My husband was reading about double that.

Despite this consumption of books, except for poetry, I do not read for pleasure.

I stopped reading for pleasure years ago.

This doesn't mean I don't get pleasure from reading. I do. What I mean is that all of my reading is purpose-driven. Since I'm a selector for my library district, I need to keep up with what's being written in my area, so I read books for that job. I do tons of research for my writing and for other endeavors, so I read a lot of nonfiction books.

I am a novelist, but I read very few novels any more, except those I read for my library job.

I know that's a stunning thing for a novelist to admit. The not reading novels happened slowly. First I stopped reading novels when I was writing because I'm a kind of natural a mimic. When I'm talking to someone with a Southern accent, within minutes I have a Southern accent. I don't do it on purpose. In fact, right now as I'm writing this, I hear it in a Southern accent just because I'm talking about Southern accents.

Same with writing. After I read Brideshead Revisited, I started writing like Evelyn Waugh. No one should write like Evelyn Waugh, except for--possibly--Evelyn Waugh.

Back when I first noticed this, I wrote about one novel a year and went weeks and weeks without writing once that one novel was finished. Having a novel-fast while writing a novel worked out fine. I read novels when I wasn't writing.

But then I started writing almost nonstop. And something else happened. I stopped enjoying reading. I couldn't relax and be enveloped by a story any more. Either I'd read a novel and wonder how this piece of crap got published (nasty me back then), or I'd be so awed by it that I'd become depressed and think, "I can't ever do anything that good so I might as well hang it up."

If I didn't have either of those reactions, I'd start rewriting the story in my head. I didn't try to do this. It just happened. My storytelling instincts kicked in, and I was certain I could do it better. (Ah hubris.)

And in certain kinds of novels, I could often tell what was going to happen from the very beginning. Once I opened a Scott Turow novel my husband had and read the first paragraph. I said, "The wife did it." (I only said this after I asked if he wanted to know.)

So much of my life revolved around stories, yet I had stopped enjoying them. It had all started to feel like work. Reading and writing.

And not in a good way.

As I walked through my house looking for books to sell that Saturday, I wondered what would happen if I didn't sell any of these books. What if I read them.

I kept looking for the answers out there. In something new.

Maybe they were right here.

What if I could actually read the books in my own house for pleasure? Without purpose. Not for research. Not for work. Just because they were in my house.

What would happen?

Would I go through withdrawal because I couldn't buy any books or get any from the library? Would my life change? Could I learn to relax?

I decided I would try it. I would try to let loose. Let go of control.

Instead of selling those one hundred books, I decided to read them.

I hope to fall in love again. But that is not the purpose.

So this is how it's going to go.

For one year, I will only read what's in my house.

I can't bring any new books into the house, either from a bookstore or the library.

I can't coerce my husband or anyone else to gift me any books.

If Mario buys books, I can't read those new books.

There are some caveats. I still work for the library, so I'll still need to read books for my job. If I take any classes, I am allowed to read whatever the assigned books are.

Other than that, I am housebound. As far as my reading goes.

I will try to read one nonfiction book and one novel a week. I'm going to be flexible with this. I'm going to try not to skim the books.

I will probably write about this process.

You could argue that writing about this defeats the whole purpose of purposeless reading.

You might be right. But I am a writer. It's what I do.

I will try to do it with purposelessness.

Oh, and here's another way I'm letting go. My husband is going to pick the books for me. One novel, one nonfiction book.

Let the dangerous reading begin.

Chapter One

Nonfiction: Chysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd

Fiction: One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead by Clare Dudman

Read more here...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sleeping Around

Sleeping Around: One Woman’s Quest to Find Lodging in Wonderful, Bizarre, and Unexpected Places

Chapter One: Entryway

I am not a comfortable person. I would like to be. I strive to be relaxed. I imagine I am relaxed and easy-going. I pretend others see me as a mellow person, but that is not the reality. Once I said to my parents and sisters, “I don’t know why anyone has a problem with me. I am quite easy-going.” They all burst into laughter--and my family isn’t the bursting into laughter kind of family. Travel is better for people who are easy-going.

Despite my general discomfort and my intensity, I love to travel. I like to see new places--and I like to experience old places again. Travel has not always been easy for me. I’ve had to be careful where I stayed because for a long time I had allergies and bouts of vertigo and asthma which didn’t always make travel fun or easy. Of course, all of life is not easy, nor should it be. I am not an armchair traveller. I wanted to be out in the world. I saw each trip I took as a kind of pilgrimage, a sauntering, a wandering through the landscape in search of treasure: good health and easy times.

The word "easy" comes from the word “ease.” Dis-ease then is the opposite of ease--or at least it is contrary to ease. I was (and am) often ill at ease in my world. But I am striving, relaxing, easing toward being at ease. And sleeping around the country (and world) helped me do that.

When I was a girl, I was a wild child. I was most at home outdoors with the creatures and flora of nature. I was also very sensitive, in tears when animals or trees died. We lived out in the country. I spent all day outside in the woods and a good part of the night looking up at the stars and dancing with lightning bugs.

When it was time to sleep, I went inside the house. One summer, I begged my father to get us a tent or one of the little cardboard tipis I had seen. Eventually he got the cardboard tipi and set it up for me. I went outside with my sleeping bag and some treats. One of my four sisters may have come with me, but I don’t remember. I do remember it was very tiny inside the tipi and not very comfortable. I did eventually fall to sleep, but when I woke up the next morning, I was inside our house, in my bed.

I was furious with my father. How could he have brought me inside when he knew how much I wanted to sleep outdoors with the creatures of the night?

My pops hadn’t had anything to do with it.

We figured out that I had walked in my sleep. Walked out of my little cardboard hut and into the house. I remembered vaguely half-waking up in the night, standing up, banging on the cardboard. I had thought it was a dream. That was the last time I tried to sleep outside for a while.

I didn’t go on sleepovers like other girls. Not for a long time. I wet the bed. Yes, I was one of those poor dear children who were cursed with over-active bladders. Or under-active bladders. Whatever it was, I wet the bed. I knew I’d be mortified if I slept over to a friend’s house and wet the bed. I’d never be able to show my face in my small town again. So I didn't sleep over.

When I was ten or eleven years old a friend asked me to spend the night. I hadn’t wet the bed for a long time, but I was still afraid I might. My parents encouraged me to go. It was time to get out in the world. So I went. My friend and I lay in bed talking for a long time, facing each other in the bed we shared.

Yes, we were sleeping in the same bed! Please, please, please bladder don’t fail me now. I watched her fall to sleep. I remember thinking what a wonderful sweet girl she was. Even if I did wet the bed, she would understand. I tried to stay awake, but eventually I was off to dream land.

All was dry in the morning.

My days of adventure away from home had begun.

I became a Girl Scout a year or two later. Our troop rarely actually camped outside. We usually went to places where we could stay overnight inside a lodge with a roaring fire. Most of us were already country girls, so we liked a little comfort when we camped. Inside, we could make s’mores and tell ghost stories. After everyone fell to sleep, I was always awake, looking around the room and wondering what mischief I could get into.

Every once in a while, though, we pitched our tents and slept in the great outdoor.

I loved the smell of the old canvas tents. I loved being inside giggling with my friends, eating junk food and telling stories. Naturally, I always told the best and spookiest stories. (Most girls just retold movies or TV shows they had seen. Come on. No imagination. I made stuff up.) One year I told the story of Green Eyes. When we were hiking, I looked into the woods and thought I saw something with green eyes, so I told the girls about Green Eyes, the creature who was following us, waiting for us, sizing us up for dinner. Green Eyes was not a person. Wasn’t even an animal. He was a pair of green eyes. Big green eyes.

We found the idea of green eyes hanging around in the woods very scary.

We were twelve.

On this particular camping trip, we stayed up late--mostly because I had scared all the girls and they couldn’t sleep. But finally, one by one, the girls inside the various tents settled down and went to sleep, including the girls in my tent.

Everyone fell to sleep except me.

I could not sleep. I was so cold. I lay shivering in my flimsy sleeping bag. I put on all my clothes and still I shivered and my teeth chattered. I was so cold it was painful.

And boring. It was so boring to be awake in the dark of the night cold and freezing and feeling as though the night would ever end. I finally got up, put on my shoes, and stumbled around in the dark until I found the Girl Scout leader’s tent. I woke her up and told her I was cold.

“It’s your own fault for keeping everyone up,” she said.

I was only a girl, not even a teen, but I thought that was a pretty strange thing to say. What did that have to do with the fact that I was freezing to death?

“Put on all your clothes and see if that helps,” she said.

I don’t think I was ever so disappointed in an adult in my life. To this day.

I stumbled back to my tent. I slipped into my sleeping bag fully clothed like Heidi on her way to live with her grandfather--only I had no grandfather to put me by the fire and feed me hot soup, just the cranky mother of my best friend who seemed very happy, thank you, that Nature was punishing me because the scout leader could not herself slap me around. I cocooned myself inside my bag, nibbled on graham crackers, and waited for dawn.

To my annoyance and great shame--because I was, after all, Nature Girl--I never did become a good camper. I was always cold and could never sleep. Not a fun time. Even years later when I had a down sleeping bag and my husband’s body for a heater, I could not fall to sleep in a tent.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Although I was not a good camper, I did love to travel. I saved up money for more than a year to backpack around Europe after I graduated from high school. In the years to come, I returned to Europe many times. I loved to travel. I loved to fly. Then, on my last trip to Europe, the plane took a dive. Or a giant came out of the sky and tried to shake the plane to pieces.

At least that’s what it felt like.

I remember the screams. I remember a stewardess flying through the air. I remember the toupee flying off the guy sitting next to me.

When it was over and we weren’t all dead, the stewardess came by to see if everyone was all right. She leaned over the now-bald guy next to me and said to us, “I thought we were goners for sure.”

Thus my fear of flying was born.

Other things were born, too. My general unease increased. I still loved traveling. Just because I didn’t want to fly didn’t mean I couldn’t still enjoy going places. Yet some health problems popped up, and I needed (and wanted) to stay places that were healthy and safe. I discovered that nearly every motel and hotel uses pesticides inside their buildings. I didn’t want to breathe pesticides or sleep places where pesticides were used. We always had to call ahead to whatever town we were driving through to make certain we could a hotel that didn’t use pesticides.

And the telephone conversations were always fun. Most of the time the person on the other end of the phone had no idea whether the hotel used pesticides or not. We learned we had to ask just the right question at the right time to get an accurate answer.

“Does your hotel use pesticides?” I’d ask.

“Pesticides? What’s that?” Them.

“Do you spray for bugs?” Me.

“No, no, we don’t do that.” Them.

“Someone doesn’t come in once a month and spray?” Me.

“Oh, yeah, sure, someone does that.” Them.

It was not an easy task to find pesticide-free lodging. What this meant was that we often stayed in out-of-the-way places or in towns I had never heard of before.

Sometimes it meant we wandered around without having a place to sleep. Once Mario and I were traveling across country, and we decided to stop at Yellowstone. (We were young and foolish.) It was late and the lodge was full. We were going to pitch a tent, but every few feet we saw signs about bears. Beware of bears. Bears are gonna eatcha. If they don’t eat you, they’ll steal your food--and then eat ya.

I remembered the story of the two women getting eaten by bears when I was a teen. (Not that many years before our trip to Yellowstone.) I was spooked. When I went to the campground bathroom, I saw a huge "beware of bears" sign. In the bathroom? (That answered the question about whether a bear goes in the woods or not.)

Mario and I decided to sleep in our car and then get out of Dodge as soon as we got some rest. Mario slept relatively soundly. I fell to sleep for a little while only to have a very realistic dream where Mario and I were sleeping in our car in Yellowstone Park and a bear came and ripped our car apart. I woke up in a sweat and was glad to find our little hotel on wheels was still in tact. As were we.

One time we found a motel in some small town in Idaho. They didn’t use pesticides, but the whole place looked like a psychopath rest stop. It was dark and dreary. Inside spiders hung from the ceiling.

As I waved to the spiders, I said to Mario, “At least we know they weren’t lying about using pesticides.”

I didn’t examine the sheets too carefully. Mario got into bed and fell right to sleep. I could not sleep. The room shook, just slightly, constantly. I looked outside and discovered about ten semi-trucks were in the tiny motel parking lot, with their motors idling. The fumes were terrible. I got one of the worst headaches of my life. I was miserable and tired after a twelve hour car ride, sucking in diesel fumes, and enduring a headache. I went out and sat in the our car and cried. (I didn’t want to wake up Mario.) Eventually I went back into the motel room and got a couple hours of sleep.

And so our adventures continued.

When I had the idea for this book, I thought about finding all kinds of strange places to go sleep in. Then I realized I had already visited and slept in quite a few strange and wonderful places.

I’m glad I have. I’m not a fan of monoculture. I love differences. I don’t want to have the same comfortable experience again and again. Yet some of the places where I’ve slept have pushed beyond the envelope of my general unease: Like the house we stayed in the middle of a cornfield with a man and his invisible wife; or the bed and breakfast where a drunk pounded on our door in the middle of the night and tried to get inside; or the train ride that was so rough I wished I was on that airplane hurtling to the ground.

You may want to visit some of the places we’ve stayed; other place you’ll want to get the address so you can avoid them. I’ve changed the occasional name and place to protect the...bizarre. Otherwise, everything I've written about here is the truth as I saw and remembered it. This isn’t a travel guide, at least not in the traditional sense. I won’t tell you where to eat, what to see, where to sleep. I will show you some of the trails I took and who I was then and how each place changed me, shaped me. Maybe my words will help you think about your travels differently.

Traveling is not so much about seeing places where George Washington slept, where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried, or where the last Civil War battle was fought. At the heart of all our journeys is the search for the truth about ourselves and who we are, what we bring to a place, and what we carry home with us.

All in all, sleeping around was good for me.

I hope it’s good for you, too.

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.