Friday, April 5, 2019

Feet first

Giving walkers safe passage in Shoreline, WA
No, I didn't plan to walk six miles round trip to the movie theater yesterday. My intention was to walk there and take the bus back, but I stayed for all the credits and used the restroom afterward--and there was the bus I meant to catch, pulling away across the street just as I walked out the door. 

No worries. Having missed the bus, I decided to walk back a different way from the one I'd come--and on the way, I got to visit two new-to-me city parks and found and photographed some cool public art. (If you love street art, you might want to follow me on Instagram.) It was sunny and about 62 degrees. What could be better?

I'm currently researching a magazine article about people who are driving less to save money. There are so many options to forgo or supplement car ownership these days: transit, car sharing, ride hailing, bike sharing--and my very favorite (and the cheapest option), our own two feet.

After past experience in car-free living, I do have a car these days (thanks, Tom), but I go days without driving it. As a writer and editor, I mostly work from home, of course. I use my feet and the company-provided transit pass (thanks, Mariners) to get to my part-time job. I plan my ballpark commute and many of my errands around the five miles or so I try to walk every day, but the best walks of all can be aimless ones where I set off with only a vague idea of where I am going.

Plenty of factors keep people from walking as much as they'd like, but spring is a wonderful time to walk as much as you can, whether that's around the block or for many miles. The weather is wonderful and new life is blossoming everywhere you look. And yes indeed, I spent several hours of an ostensible workday going to a movie (the gorgeous Cold War) and walking there and back, but here's the thing about walking: If your work--or any part of your life--involves thinking, you can actually get a lot done on a walk. As I meandered, I mentally outlined the article I mentioned above, and I thought about contacts who can potentially help me find sources for several other projects. But mostly, I enjoyed the fresh air and the sunshine and the fact I wasn't stuck in a metal box on a glorious spring day. 

Walking is good!

Friday, February 15, 2019

More will be revealed (again)

I'm moving today--or at least starting a move that will unfold over a few weeks, since I'm not going far and I still have work to do settling Tom's estate. My new address will be the 21st place I've lived in my life and the sixth in the past seven years. (You read that right: Boise to Oakland in 2012, Oakland to Seattle in 2013, then two apartments in Seattle, then here with and without Tom--and now back to Seattle. )

The house I'm leaving has never really felt like home, except when Tom was here.  His presence was strong in the first weeks after he died, but soon this too-big-for-one place felt empty, even with the volumes of stuff I'm still sorting through eight months later.

I could write more about that (and I will), but this is a post about my next stop, a tiny studio apartment/townhouse hybrid I've mainly chosen because it's on the ground floor (for a relatively easy move); in a walkable, transit friendly neighborhood; and I was able to sign a short lease. It's possible--maybe even likely--that I may move again before the end of 2019.

Or it's possible that this new, tiny place will be just enough, just what I need. It's inexpensive by Seattle standards, possibly cheap enough that I can afford to leave for a few weeks to go somewhere warm each winter if I decide to stay in the Northwest.

Or I may feel a pull to move one more time, either in Seattle or to somewhere else, ideally somewhere I might live for more than a few years. It's also possible I may decide to claim no fixed address at all--to fully embrace my peripatetic ways.

As you can tell, I really have no idea. This year will be about trying to sort that out--trying to divine my own wishes after the most intense year of my life.

Although I write infrequently here, I journal every day. I'll be starting a new journal to accompany this move; I decorated it a few days ago. The photo above is from the New Internationalist calendar a few years ago. The ticket stub from an Elizabeth Gilbert lecture a few years ago has my favorite quote from that night: "Be a highly disciplined half-ass."  The poem is by Jan Richardson, a favorite of mine since I first heard it in UU Wellspring a few years ago and an especially apt one for this new season of discernment:

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.

See you around again soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reel life: My take on the 2019 Oscar nominations

Although I'm a major movie buff, it's a rare year when I've seen all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar nods are announced. That was the case for 2018-2019, though, and I saw them all on the big screen. Here are my brief impressions of the nominations announced today.

Black Panther: Great storytelling and the year's best ensemble cast. It's gratifying to see a superhero/fantasy film finally make the cut. I saw this with Tom at a packed Rose Theatre in Port Townsend--the only one of the nominees we saw together, on our last real weekend getaway. It was actually our second choice that day; we'd been hoping to get tickets to the documentary California Typewriter playing at the Rose's tiny Starlight Room, but it was sold out. We agreed we were happy it worked out that way. This is the only Best Picture nominee that came out before Tom died in June. I'll miss watching the Oscars with him this year.

BlacKkKlansman: Lots of stylish and suspenseful fun, with an unexpectedly but appropriately sobering end. So glad to see Spike Lee get a directing nod and Adam Driver land the acting nomination he should have had for Paterson. I saw this with my daughter Natalie in Boise at the Edwards 21 on a 100+ plus degree August day that was made for sitting in a cool theater.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Really? It was enjoyable and definitely a crowd-pleaser, with moviegoers rating it far higher than the critics. I'm not sure how it slipped into the Best Picture ranks, though. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody twice, first at Regal Thornton Creek in Seattle with the gimmicky ScreenX treatment (admittedly a good fit for this movie) and again with Natalie at the big Edwards in Boise.

The Favourite: Yorgos Lanthimos' aggressively weird world view is about 180 degrees from my own, and I hated The Lobster--but I have to admit his latest mindbender belongs in the running for Best Pic. (I'll be pissed if it wins, though.) Olivia Colman's Best Actress nomination is deserved, and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz seemed to have the time of their lives. I saw this at the AMC Oak Tree in Seattle.

Green Book:  I liked this a lot, though--as with Bohemian Rhapsody--I'm a little surprised to see it crack the Best Picture ranks. Viggo Mortensen showed great range for his second Best Actor nomination in three years, though this wasn't the equal of his astounding turn in Captain Fantastic. Mahershala Ali was such a presence, rising far above supporting status, so it is good to see his nomination. I saw this with my brother Jeff and his husband Kevin at the Metreon in San Francisco.

Roma: Hands down my favorite movie of the year, gorgeous to look at, with an engrossing story and packed with memorable characters--though none as luminous as Yalitza Aparicio's Cleo. I am absolutely thrilled to see Roma get a Best Picture nod; I thought it'd be relegated to the Best Foreign Film category, where it actually is nominated, too. I've seen Roma twice at the Landmark Crest in Shoreline, one of a few places where it's had a theatrical release, and I may get back for a third viewing before it leaves. Viva Mexico, in all its beauty and complexity, and thank you Alfonso Cuaron.

A Star is Born: As manipulative as Roma is meditative, this movie ripped me to shreds in the best way. Bradley Cooper knew what he wanted to do and he did it very well. It'll be fun to watch where Lady Gaga goes from here as an actress (though I'd have given her nomination for this to Thomasin McKenzie, in Leave No Trace). I saw A Star is Born alone at Regal Thornton Creek not so long after Tom passed away, thus its emotional punch--but I think it would stand up as strong on another viewing

Vice: I really loved The Big Short, eagerly awaited this, and finally saw it Sunday at the Mountlake Terrace Cinebarre. Christian Bale is so good depicting Dick Cheney from his misspent youth to his Machiavellian prime, and Vice makes a compelling argument that Cheney was an even more destructive force to democracy than the current occupant of the White House. It's a sledgehammer of a movie, but director Adam McKay's creativity and several great performances (Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell are super, too) earn it a Best Picture nod.

What's going to win? I have no idea, but I'll be cheering for Roma, which soars above the rest of the nominees for its artistry and humanity. And on those grounds, I'd be happy with a Black Panther win, too.

A few more notes:

What a great crop of animated features we had this year. I found Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, and especially Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse all fantastic fun.

I just saw If Beale Street Could Talk the other day and am a bit surprised to see it get only a few nominations. Its cinematography was especially lovely.

The year's most overlooked feature was the understated, little-seen Leave No Trace, which suffered from a summer not-so-wide release. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie were brilliant as a father and daughter onscreen together in nearly every scene, and--although I haven't seen the Best Director-nominated Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski), I wonder whether his nod--or actually anyone's but Cuaron's--could have gone to Debra Granik. As usual, women filmmakers have a rough time getting noticed by Oscar voters. This was a Best Picture candidate in my book and may have made the cut had it come out in the fall.

Also, how did Won't You Be My Neighbor? miss out for Best Documentary? I need to get busy with the documentary nods--RBG is the only one I've seen--but it's hard to believe they're all better than this timely and gentle film about the life of Fred Rogers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Breaking up with Amazon Prime

Today would have been my Amazon Prime anniversary, but I decided a few weeks ago--before news of Jeff and MacKenzie's divorce--that I'd pull the plug on this romance.

The truth is, I've long been ambivalent about the company that has transformed the way Americans shop, not to mention the metro region I've called home for the past five years. Yet over the past few years, life circumstances and Amazon's crazy convenience led me to use it more than I would have liked. It was time to say goodbye.


Of course, I had some prep work to do. My most important task was downloading a few hundred of the thousands of digital photos I'd stored on Amazon. I also spent the last few days revisiting several dozen episodes of Mozart in the Jungle, easily my favorite TV series of the past 20 years. This is as close as I've ever come to a binge.

I'm completely immune to Alexa's charms. I prefer Spotify and TuneIn for streaming music and podcasts. I don't even order enough stuff from Amazon to make Prime's free shipping worthwhile. It turns out the one thing I ordered more than once last year--filters for my cold-brew coffee system--I could actually get direct from the manufacturer for less than half the cost I'd paid on Amazon, and with cheap shipping, too. I'll also try to remember that there's really no such thing as free shipping, not in monetary terms nor in ecological impact. If I can buy something at a local store and take a walk, too, that's the best use of my time and money.

Amazon started a quarter-century ago as a cool way to order books. It's more expensive to buy at my local indie store, but I want to support my neighbors. I've also discovered another wonderful online source for used books: Better World Books, which is serious about promoting global literacy and curbing its environmental impact. (Honestly, though, I mostly borrow books these days, either from my wonderful local libraries or the Little Free Library boxes that dot Seattle and many other towns.)

I'm sure I'll continue to use Amazon off and on, but I'm also guessing that my savings will go beyond the $119 annual Prime fee as I return to being more thoughtful and intentional about what I buy and where I buy it.

Monday, December 17, 2018

In praise of the pivot

I write today with one simple idea: It's fine to change your mind, to flip flop, to revise course.

I say this for myself as I contemplate the infinite variety of choices I might make for my next chapter of life.

I say it for you and your loved ones, because the best gift we can give ourselves or someone we love may be permission to change direction, even in matters as big as political persuasion, religious affiliation, sexuality, or career.

And I say it for our country and our world because brinksmanship and inflexibility are inhumane. There's always another way forward, even if some will choose to call it a retreat.

When we pay attention, we can see the power of principled, thoughtful course correction (or at least the possibility of it) around us every day, even among people whose views may be vastly different from our own. I heard two examples in 15 minutes of radio news this morning. In the first, a Republican strategist urged the president to pivot away from his demand to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and explained how he could save face doing so. In the second, a Christian writer who penned a bestselling book on saving sex for marriage has asked his publisher to stop printing new copies of it. He hasn't turned his back on his beliefs, but he's seen the harm and heartbreak that an inflexible approach to life and love can cause. 

We can see examples among friends and family, too. One of my dear ones was leaning toward getting a new job in 2019 until a heartfelt talk with his boss made him realize how much he values his current working relationship and how much he might contribute in the coming year. Of course, new facts and feelings could make him change his mind again--and that's OK, too. When we feel free to change our minds based on new evidence, the happier we can be.

Personally, the only thing I know with certainty is that I'll be moving again in a few months. I'm eager to leave a house that really only felt like home to me while Tom was here--and I am inclined to leave (at least in winter) a region that is cold and damp and sees only eight hours of daylight this time of year.

With my portable career and love for new vistas, I am truly spoiled for choice. One day, one hour, one minute, I think I know exactly where I want to go and what I want to do first, then I see another possibility and think "hmmmm ..." And there are certainly other opportunities of which I'm not yet aware, too.

At some point, I will need to decide where I want to be, at least for a while. The beautiful thing is that need not be my final decision. And whatever choices you make today need not be your final decisions, either.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Mind the gaps

My sweetheart Tom used to tell a story about a near-death experience he had shortly after his diagnosis with multiple myeloma. To paraphrase: He was on his way to an oncology appointment, driving on Interstate 5 near downtown Seattle, when his windshield shattered. He still made it to his appointment; he was a get-it-done guy. But later that day, a police officer examining the vehicle handed Tom a metal rod, several inches long. It had flown off a truck into Tom's car--and had its trajectory been just a little different, it would have struck Tom's head after it hit the windshield. Yet it didn't, and Tom didn't die that day. His cancer went into remission, he saw his kids graduate from high school, he helped launch a new radio station while working his day job in music, and he fell in love with me.

I've spent much of this year since June 30 cleaning out Tom's stuff, and I came across a longer, written account of that day that he gave as a talk at Toastmasters shortly before Thanksgiving a year or two after it happened. His message, of course, was that you never know when something might fly through your windshield and kill you, so be happy and grateful--and Tom usually was.

Five years ago this morning, I met Tom at the Oakland airport. He'd flown down from Seattle on Thanksgiving morning to spend the holiday with my brother and his husband and me. The next day, we packed up a small rental truck and set off for Seattle, where I'd decided to move to be closer to Tom. We'd only been together a few months at that point, but when you fall in love with someone who has cancer, you don't want to waste a lot of time.

Tom and I had another four-and-a-half years together. It would be more than two years before his cancer returned in early 2016. We spent Thanksgiving that year in a hospital room, three weeks after his autologous stem cell transplant and four days after Tom's oxygen dropped and his temperature spiked to 106.8 as his body briefly rebelled against his re-infused cells. He'd nearly died again, but with quick action from his medical team, Tom pulled through--and a few days later, we noshed on a not-bad hospital Thanksgiving meal while listening to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant and Paul Simon's The Boy in the Bubble. Two days later, we were home.

"... these are the days of miracles and wonders ..."

A few weeks after that Thanksgiving, Tom would watch his son graduate from college via a streaming site on the Internet. He'd live another 19 months, regain his strength to work hard (mostly from home) and travel several more times, launch another radio station, see his daughter turn 21, and marry me on his 62nd birthday.

Eleven days after that, he was gone.

I'm tempted to say I've written off this Thanksgiving--and likely the whole holiday season. But that's not really true. Last weekend, I joined in an early celebration with my daughter and her dad and my brother and his husband. Later today, I'll volunteer on the reception team for Thanksgiving dinner at the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter. At this point in my life, it's often easier to be with strangers than grieve with kin, though I look forward to spending time with family and friends, too.

After Tom's death, I started experiencing some serious health challenges. I don't find it useful to post about such things online; some people gain strength from sharing, but I find it draining, so I've kept the details mostly to myself and a few friends and family. Suffice it to say, I'm feeling better now than I did a few months ago and I'm doing what I need to do to address the remaining issues--even as I do the work of settling Tom's estate and as much paid editorial work as I can manage. (I'm lucky to manage four hours a day of the latter, but for now, that's enough.)

Next Thanksgiving, I hope I'll be doing something similar to what I did on Thanksgiving in 2000, when I sat enjoying a plate of pasta at a waterfront restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, ahead of Lonely Planet's Authors Week. Maybe I'll be in Mexico; maybe I'll be in Vietnam. I'll have no fixed address, living nowhere and everywhere (though I'll get back to the Northwest for Christmas). I plan to travel for at least a few years with my portable editing and writing career, and I hope to teach English as a foreign language, too. I've started the process to learn TEFL and will ramp up that plan in the new year once I've concluded my estate duties.

Meanwhile, this is a season of living while we wait to resume life. I have low expectations for myself and everyone around me. We all still miss Tom. Good days and bad. Yes, I'm shedding a few tears as I write this. Mostly, I'm giving thanks for what we had.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Living with death

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. I don't like to play dress up and I'm not drawn to the macabre; when my daughter and I visited Paris, the catacombs were high on her to-see list and I couldn't have cared less--so I skipped them, took a walk while she waited in the two-hour line, then sat in a sunny park and read a book.

I tried to go back to church in August for the first time since Tom died. I was doing OK until a woman wearing a black-and-white skull motif sweater materialized in front of me and suddenly I had to follow her along the narrow path--a person going to church, in August, wearing a sweater with skulls. Some people really like Halloween.

But not me. So I didn't plan to watch A Ghost Story last night. But I did, and I'm glad, and if you miss someone you loved very much, you might like it, too.

A 2017 release, A Ghost Story is directed by David Lowery and stars Casey Affleck; the two of them teamed up again this year on The Old Man & The Gun, which I saw earlier this week. There's a lot to like about The Old Man & The Gun: its attention to detail, its occasional meandering talkiness (since the character played by star Robert Redford is the taciturn sort, sidekick Tom Waits gets to deliver the movie's best monologue), and above all its meditative quality--yes, a movie that's ostensibly about robbing banks is really about knowing what makes life worth living.

I looked up what else Lowery has made, and I remembered hearing that there was more to A Ghost Story than its title and Halloween-costumed title character. I decided to watch, and I fell into it immediately. Imagine the most perfect moments you ever had with the person you loved, and how those perfect moments lived in an imperfect love that was still far more than enough. Imagine trying to reclaim those moments and--along the way--being of comfort as your beloved deals with your loss. This is what A Ghost Story seems to be about.

I went to bed right after watching A Ghost Story. A soft Seattle rain fell outside the window, and I could imagine having Tom there with me, curled up together as we had been so many times, just like that.

It'll never happen again. What matters is that it happened.