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From the category archives:


How Ernest knew, I don’t know

by Kate on September 10, 2008



WWe could never make it to the Fall. The Halloween Express will not give any gifts this year, again. But, She would be a gift to any man. You love the autumn, the red leaves and long white limbs. Scarred and Ugly limbs made you a forest of boredom. You have never known a forest of beech, of oak, of chestnut. Those are forests. Do I ever go to another man? With this face? This is a face that is known. How would you like to be ugly, Beautiful One? I was born ugly. All of my life I have been ugly. You, beautiful, who know nothing about women, do you know how an ugly woman feels? Do you know what it is to be ugly all your life and inside to feel that you are beautiful? Life is very strange. I would have made a good man, but I am all woman and all ugly. Yet, men have loved me and I have loved them. You and other men look at my ugliness yet there is that feeling that blinds him when he loves you. I, with that feeling, blind him, blind myself. Then one day, for no reason, he starts to see you ugly as you really are and he is not blind any more and then you see yourself as ugly as he sees you and you lose your man and your feeling. Do you understand this, Beautiful? After a while, when you are as ugly as I am, as ugly as women can be, then, as I say, after a while the feeling, the idiotic feeling that you are beautiful grows, slowly in once again. It grows like a cabbage. And then, when the feeling is grown, another man sees you and thinks you are beautiful and it is all to do over. Now I think I am past it, but it still might come. You are lucky, Beautiful One, that you are not ugly. You and your women are lucky.


Discipline, Generosity.

by CSLi on September 6, 2008

MVColumbia, Alaska
On the Columbia deck, Gulf of Alaska

On the Columbia deck, Gulf of Alaska

WWhat distinguishes a “good person” from anyone else?

I’m on the Columbia ferry, a 335,000sf rig that has taken us from Bellingham, WA to Petersburg, Alaska, and is now taking us back. The public announcements overhead are preceded by a lute-ish tone sounding like my phone when it receives a text message; Though there hasn’t been a cell signal for days, I scurry after my phone at each “car deck” call. Below us, 134 cars, RVs, vans, and SUVs are held hostage in the belly of the whale, below sea level, along with 50 dogs locked in the cars. Jonah’s song rises up from their throats toward a heaven so far above them now that it must, at times, seem futile.

A week has flown by. I haven’t written anything. If there is a reason, it’s a stupid one. Have I been busy? Have I been tired, or cranky? I was raised in a rather disciplined environment. You could even say that I’ve come to love discipline for its own sake. This isn’t an efficient way to be, but what can you do? I was telling Kate about my appreciation for the steely, “Greatest Generation” characters who fought our wars and built our bridges. The most beautiful part about discipline, to me, is what you might call its “mechanism”. It goes something like this:

1. Person determines to do something that is not effortless (and sufficiently beneficial to warrant the effort, i.e. lose weight, keep in contact with friends, etc.)
2. Person starts out strong, “disciplined”
3. After a week or month, Person starts to falter in her desire to remain disciplined. She wakes up too late to exercise, or she starts thinking that she’ll never be a real artist so WHY draw EVERY DAY?? This is called sabotage.
4. The beautiful mechanism of discipline: Person can relax and simply buckle down to the task. This is because she:
A. Said she would, and
B. Submits herself to a Greater Good–both the good of her endeavors, and the good that comes from keeping your word

Now — isn’t that exquisite? Simply Splenda. Maybe discipline is one of the marks of a “good person”. We certainly recognise it when we see it, and usually with respect. Of course, my discipline falters all the time–as when I’m on a boat trawling up the Gulf of Alaska, on deck in a sleeping bag, trying to get up the get-go to write. I am not nearly so good as I’d like to be.

Last time we were on this ferry, there were entire hordes of elderly couples, a few foreigners, and a harried father with four (five? six?) terrible sons. These boys slept by day and ran about all night, squealing like puppies. I felt sincere pangs of sympathy for Dad–alternating with a wish that he would kill them. But I don’t mean to sound ungenerous.

Generosity is another trait that “good people” possess. They laugh heartily, give freely when they can, and harbor no agenda for recognition or pay. Good people have a generosity of spirit that attends their language and their deeds. I swear, you can see it in their eyes. They brim with a loving sobriety. A generous person doesn’t suffer for the sake of others–that’s something different. That is what we call “masochism”. (I have no problem with masochists, some of my best friends et-cetera et-cetera, but I prefer to call something what it is. In the way that a man without fear cannot be courageous, a man without love for himself cannot be generous.)

In Petersburg, Kate and I saw a movie called “The Straight Story”, about an old man who drives his lawn mower from Laurens, IA to Mount Zion, WI to visit his elder brother. This man is depicted as independent, proud, disciplined and kind–not a hardened soul, not a pushover either–just reliable, human, and good.

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Our town: “Better than Expected!”

by CSLi on August 28, 2008

Wallace, ID
Street view at 11 a.m.

Street view at 11 am.

WWallace, Idaho is one of those towns you drive into and behold through your window, thinking, “my but what a pretty town!” It is buffeted on all sides by the Bitterroot mountains and on the north by I-90, a swooping concrete structure overhead that thins to a ribbon in the distance.

We wanted to stay at The Stargazer Motel, with its starburst neon sign and rooms advertised at $34.50. That’s a price you don’t see often in Brooklyn, not even for a decent acai-goji berry-whey protein smoothie. Kate went inside to procure our lodging, but alas! there was no room at the inn for that price. The lady at the front desk snapped at her, “Just you? (sneering)…or you got someone with you?” Well, everyone likes to bemoan the absence of good customer service nowadays. I tell you, go to The Stargazer–for there is the enemy, and she is Mavis.

In 1883 Colonel W.R. Wallace bought 80 acres of swampy land and started the Hecla Mine. By 1885, his wife Lucy had arrived and named the town Wallace. It quickly became known for its rich silver deposits and semi-legal brothels. Today, Wallace remains a productive mining town, but the working girls are gone. Everyone, in fact, is gone. The antique stores, library, gift shops, pizza parlors, and dollar stores are closed. We stayed at the Brooks Hotel, efficiency rooms with their tiny television sets suspended from the ceiling, angled toward the bed like sentinels from the 1950’s. Absent is the thin-wall din from adjacent rooms, absent is any sound of life at all. Whatever happened to Wallace, Idaho?

The internet provides a few clues. Like any single-industry town, Wallace is wholly dependent on its mining. When veins “dry up” and are not replaced by new ones, miners leave town, taking with them the stores, brothels and other services that support them. The story of Wallace has been one of ebb and flow, people either carried along on streams of molten silver, or washed ashore. It is the only town which, in its entirety, is on the National Historic Register. There exists a determined pride, betrayed by signs like “Center of the Universe” on the corner of 6th and Bank Street, which serves to underscore–not offset–the eerie sense of defeat that seems to rise from the streets like steam. I have felt this defeat before, in towns like Gary, Indiana. I have seen a whole town sad before.

The local supermarket’s motto is “We Honestly Care!” and in a tourist pamphlet I picked up in the hotel we are exhorted to stay for lunch, because Wallace is “Better than Expected!” It made us laugh, but we wondered: What did people expect? More sleuthing online yielded the following nugget:

When the final occupants of the Oasis Rooms left in January 1988 (the last recorded date in the “hotel” registry), they seemed to have left in a hurry. Clothing, makeup, toiletries, food and personal items were all left behind. An accurate and tastefully-presented twenty-minute tour of the upper rooms explains the mystery of the ladies’ hasty departure and gives a glimpse into the town’s bawdy past with details that range from poignant to hilarious….”

Kate and I did not take the Oasis tour, though we do regret missing out on all the touching hilarity that a hundred years of surviving among miners has contributed, no doubt, to the national lexicon. I thought of all those soot-covered miners, the women in their dresses, the saloon floor stained with sweat and alcohol, and the greedy excitement that like a fever infected everyone. I imagined what it must have been like to live in a place with a male to female ratio of 200:1. Reportedly, in 1975 there were five active brothels on Main Street alone.

As we headed out of town I said a prayer for Wallace, Idaho–for its aging miners and hotel lodgers bleary-eyed in the sun.

But I did not look back.

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tour of Lewis and Clark Caverns

Tour of Lewis and Clark Caverns

II’ve been thinking all day about phobias: intense, irrational and persistent fears which can interfere with daily life to the extent that life is arranged around them. Name a “fear”, and there’s a “phobia” lurking in the shadows, waiting with its mouth half-open to seize you. When I was a child, someone told me I was “hydrophobic”. All these years I’ve avoided beaches, pools, and various water sports because of it. Recently, though, I am not so sure. I have no fear of water…I wash my face with it, drink it, take baths in the stuff. What I do have, however, is an acute fear of drowning in water. Does that qualify as a “phobia”? It manifests itself in deep, over-my-head water: I start to hyperventilate, my stomach knots up, and I want to get to dry land immediately. This is the normal behaviour of a mammal that 1. doesn’t swim well, and 2. cannot breathe underwater. It seems perfectly rational to me.

Fear of zombies, on the other hand, is an authentic phobia. There are no zombies! The undead do not walk among us, unless you count i-bankers in midtown. I was alarmed to learn that zombie phobia doesn’t have an official name. The mummy-fearers have a name. Even the people who are Afraid to Look Up have a name. Someone online suggested “ambulothanatophobia,” meaning “fear of the walking dead”. If I Look Up one day and see a horde of zombies coming over the horizon, I will know what to call my feelings. For now, I will accept that there are no zombies, and that I am extremely afraid of them anyway.

This morning, Kate and I went on a tour of Lewis and Clark’s Caverns, discovered by two Montana hunters in the dead of winter, 1892. Despite the name, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did not explore the caverns (and probably never knew of their existence). The tour started out with a twenty-minute hike at a 7% incline–not too shabby! I found that if I didn’t chat with the other hikers, I could keep my breathing under control. Yes, I know, I should exercise more. There were bats near the entrance of the cave, but I didn’t see them. I was too busy preparing to face the dark, narrow passageways and the terrifying heights to come. I’d gone “caving” before, as a child, but children are not afraid of death. Howe Caverns in the 80’s were a breeze. Kate navigated the high cliffs and slippery stairs before me, so that my gaze always had a safe place to rest. I kept telling myself, “I am a BRAVE spelunker! I am a brave speLUNKer. I AM a brave spelunker!” and this seemed to help. Apparently, I also have a fear of heights, narrow spaces, wide open places very high up, and darkness. But…are they phobias?


Thanks, Mom, for the mtDNA.

by CSLi on August 21, 2008

what is this thing, called “blog”?

KKate is downstairs taking a bath. I had thought, in the health food store where we bought charcoal pills and Primal Strips, to get her some oatmeal bath stuff. I didn’t–it was pricey–but I wish now that I did.

Today we rode rickety touring bikes down Ash Street to another health clinic. They were doing low-cost blood screenings for the underinsured folks of Casper. It always amazes me when people get together to do a good thing. Volunteers at an elephant sanctuary, borderless doctors, men who fight human trafficking rings–these people are tenacious and kind, and I think it’s the combination of the two that really warms my cockles. With so much strife in the world, it’s easy to forget the good people who beat it back.

As for the blood tests, I had the Chem profile, hemogram, hemoglobin A1C, and ferritin tests ordered. These are but gauzy, meaningless terms to me, promising a glimpse of something beautiful. If I am patient. If I am calm. Being adopted burdens one with problems of alienation and loss, some say its own syndrome; I can’t remember a time when I was not sad. Perhaps now, I’ll gain some insight into my bloodline, through–fittingly–my own blood.