Saturday, January 21, 2012


Here's my attempt to capture all the loveliness of Stumptown Coffee. Maybe I should design advertisements? Stumptown is one of the nicknames for my home city, Portland, Oregon. I am anxiously awaiting a package from my mom containing Stumptown Coffee and in the meantime drinking substandard coffee.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
... kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Train wreck

Coming home tonight, I found my upstairs neighbor seated in front of my door and I was so startled to see her. “What are you doing here?” I asked. I thought maybe she was having a problem and needed to talk to someone. “I can’t get into my apartment,” she complained. “This is my apartment,” I corrected her and laughed. “Come on in.”

My neighbor lives directly above me, and she was a little embarrassed that she got off on the wrong floor. But I think her blunder was fate. I had just been thinking on my walk home that I wanted to discuss literature with somebody and she just happens to be a writer.

I turned on the heater and made some tea. Sipping chamomile, we exchanged stories. I told her about a train wreck I had witnessed early today, not literally, but an emotional vindictive display of human misery, directed at me. 

An ex-boyfriend delivered the cruelest and most childish, unprovoked, written attack against me. It was all nonsense. There were some deriding comments about how I write books for children and I’m stupid and I need to grow up and wake up and go F myself. Well, I couldn't look away from the screen. It was like watching demons escape during an exorcism. 

He did not affect my feelings, only the feelings I had about him. I have no room in my life for an abusive alcoholic, no matter how distant they are. I invite neighbors in for tea, but my hospitality does not extend to mean people.

My neighbor listened to my story and since she is full of pop culture references, quoted “Family Guy” and some other TV shows unfamiliar to me. I turned the conversation to villains in literature. I prefer reading about villains with whom I can sympathize, like Fagin from “Oliver Twist.” But this guy reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. I’m quite relieved that after his tantrum he has disappeared in a poof of smoke. Many ugly things in life are like Rumpelstiltskin. Fears, regrets, anger, obnoxious drunk people. Once you name them, they vanish.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Missed Connections

Sophie Blackall, illustrator of the Ivy and Bean books, has written and illustrated a book for adults. “If you like doing something,” she writes in her introduction. “Find a way to call it work.” That’s how she turned her fascination with missed connections into this wonderful book. When she was seventeen, Blackall was traveling around Turkey and saw a truck full of men drive past. One of them, with strikingly blue eyes, appeared to wave at her. Afterward, she couldn’t forget his face. She felt that if the truck had stopped and if she had met this beautiful Turkish man, true love may hay flourished.

Blackall highlights the details that most strongly affect the writers. If an admirer mentions the mystery person’s long curly brown hair, Blackall makes that hair look straight out of a Botticelli painting, so it’s almost as if the smitten people had painted the idealistic portraits themselves.

The patterns on the characters’ clothing also revolve around the theme of their chance meeting. A man with a nosebleed on the subway accepts a tissue from a girl whose dress looks like it has blood splotches on it. A woman with freckles and bruises has purplish swirls on her sweater.

Some of the little quirks people possess in the drawings sound like those of people I know, making me feel like love is everywhere, around every corner, altering everyone’s lives. I recognized my friends in the face painter seeking the handsome man whose face she painted at a party and also in the tambourine player wearing an ugly green skirt, whose admirer would not have noticed her had her tambourine not jangled so imploringly.

Someone wrote a missed connection about me once. It went something like, “You have red hair and glasses and you work at the PSU Bookstore. You helped me find a Carl Sagan book and you gave me butterflies in my stomach.” Co-workers asked me if I was going to respond and my answer was a flat out no. This person knew where I worked and if he/she really wanted to talk to me, what was keeping him/her away? In Sophie Blackall’s book, she illustrates missed connections by a few men seeking men and I wondered if fear about coming on to a straight person and suffering some homophobic backlash would be too embarrassing for them to stomach. Hence, they expressed their hidden feelings with all the other seekers who were too shy to speak up.

Missed connections can reach out to unintended people and result in unexpected friendships. In the movie "Ghost World," a sardonic character named Enid prank calls a man who wrote a missed connection, only to feel bad afterward and befriend the man. The artistic possibilities in missed connections are endless. I’m actually thinking about writing a couple myself, one to the Thai exchange student I was friends with in high school and another to the camp counselor named Jolly who made me a friendship bracelet when I was twelve.

This is a beautifully illustrated, tender and funny book. It’s sure to connect with everyone who reads it.