My Deserted Island: Books

And coconuts!

This is also a Lucky Thirteen. I can’t be expected to stop at ten books. Nuh-uh.

Dream Girl says I need to worry about survival and getting the hell home. Well, sure, but I need something to do in between fighting off wild boars and building tonight’s signal fire. Here’s what would just happen to be tucked in my rucksack:

1. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler. This isn’t the Tyler book that won the Pulitzer, but it’s my favorite. Tyler has a gift for nailing those tricky little gotchas that make love so slippery and bittersweet. Her gift for colloquialism makes her characters so real I want to track down their Facebook pages and find out how things worked out after the book ended. This is my go-to comfort book. I’ve read it so many times I almost have it memorized.
2. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. My version is an omnibus volume that has the trilogy plus a short story about Zaphod. Since it’s one volume, it counts as one book. “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” Hilarious, and deeper than it seems at first blush.
3. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins. This is a cult classic and a bit weird in parts, but one of my favorite literary moments ever is the argument between the two psychiatrists, known as the Shootout at the I’m OK, You’re OK Corral.
4. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. This book was my childhood introduction to quantum physics and to magic (which are largely the same thing). I love Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, and Charles Wallace remains the only literary wunderkind I don’t find insufferable.
5. Does a series count as a single book? Because if not, I’ve exceeded my limit with The Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan’s world is intricate and complete and very real. My words cannot do justice to these books, which are a must-read for any fan of fantasy.
6. The Book of Ash, by Mary Gentle. Again, I count these 4 volumes as one, because they do not stand alone. This series has it all: a 15th century female mercenary army commander, the Burgundian empire, modern archaeology, golems, a Visigoth Carthage, quantum mechanics, altering history, a love story. A blend of Jeanne d’Arc and Boadicea, Ash takes names and kicks ass but is still very human in her yearning for love and roots. Ash could be my best friend.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale is Margaret Atwood’s frightening contribution to the dystopian genre. This take on what an oppressive right-wing regime would do to women is particularly chilling because I can see it actually happening.
8. The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. Not necessarily my favorite poet, because there are too many to choose from, but Gibran fills my need for poetry and spirituality. Beautiful.
9. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. This whopper clocks in at almost 1,000 pages and it never lets up. It remains the best historical, cryptanalytical, technological, mathematical, strategic, nerd-heaven, looking-for-buried-treasure book ever.

10. The Glob, by John O’Reilly and Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo. This is a battered old volume my grandmother used to read to me, an entertaining tale of mankind’s move from the primordial ooze. I can’t speak as to literary or monetary value, but the sentimental value of this book is without measure.

11. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I’m not a big fan of science fiction but I’m a big fan of this book. Its principles are almost druidic.
12. Lord of the Rings. The all-time frontrunner of fantasy fiction. My terrible grades in junior high and high school math are Tolkien’s fault, since I spent most of those classes sneak-reading these books, wielding a sword like Eowyn and planning my wedding to Aragorn. (I know that’s not how it works out. I don’t care.)
13. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A wonderful rendition of the King Arthur legend, told from the viewpoints of the women: Gwenhwyfar, Igraine, Morgause, the Lady of the Lake, and the infamous Morgaine le Fey. A rich, thick magical read to lose yourself in for days.
What Ajah would you pick?
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The Space Between

One of the things I love most about my new home is the convergence of the elements: surf either pounding the shore or caressing it, hills arching in to the sky, the sun sparkling on the water, the breeze whispering to the trees and icing my skin. Here on the coast, I am living poised where Air meets Water, where Water meets Earth, where Earth meets Air. The Sun brings its Fire. Open your self and your heart and let Spirit flow in and you’ve got…a prayer. Magic. A sacred moment. Oneness with the divinity of creation, and the time and space to feel it, to be there in it.

When the Tominator and I planned our wedding, I had only one aspect that was non-negotiable – it had to be exactly at sunset. (Well, we could have chosen sunrise, but our guests would likely have been grouchy or absent.) I wanted to stand with him in that Space Between, feeling the pounding of his heart in my own ribcage, when the Sun ignites the fine line between day and night, and take it forward with us. I wanted us to have the endless choice of all the threads there are, to create the warm, rich tapestry of the life we weave together.
When we stand between any two points, whether real or theoretical, we are in a no-place. When we stand on a riverbank, we are between Earth and Water. When we stand on a cliff or a bridge, we are at the brink of Earth and Sky.
And between each conscious thought, there are infinitesimal moments of non-thought that shower possibility. Our consciousness is in a non-place where every possibility is potential. And until we move out of that Space Between and into the next moment, the next thought, all of those endless possibilities exist like Schrödinger’s cat, only a lot more poetically. In the midst of the science of physics there is the magic of mysticism.

It’s why I love the solstices and the equinoxes, exactly noon and exactly midnight; These are clear demarcations between the starting up and and the winding down. I love clocks that strike the hour. I know they are arbitrary marks on a made-up dial we invented as a way of fitting our lives to the celestial movements that rule our days and nights, our seasons and years and ages. But we are people, and we have to measure and follow and keep track and plan ahead and synchronize, and it’s as good a system as any, and it gives me that many more Spaces Between, so I like it for that reason alone.
The image of The Fool in the Tarot is, to me, an artist’s vision of the space between. A vagabond, he is dressed in rags and carries only his stick on  his back. He stands poised to step off the cliff into – what? The Space Between is the vast unknown. It is the leap of faith. He looks like a beggar but to be that rich in trust for the Universe – no, he is wealthy. The Fool lives in the space between.

Several years ago I had an animal totem reading done for me, similar to a tarot reading. The totem in my “above” position, the one that helps me keep my place in the Universe and guards me while I’m sleeping and in the Dreamtime, is Black Panther, who represents the leap of faith. What else is a leap of faith but a Space Between? It is being poised on the very tips of one’s toes with only the most tenuous of connections with terra firma, not quite in the air, but no longer on solid ground, on the exquisite precipice of a blind jump that can move in any direction, can land in any place – and then having the faith to do it, knowing that you will land where you are supposed to be.

The Space Between is that instant of absolute nothing that exists between one thought and the next. It is the moment of decision we don’t even recognize. A woman in line ahead of  me has just snapped at me for no reason. I want to remember that rather than an insult, she has given me a gift: a Space Between. How will I use it? Will I use it for myself, to make my feelings better and my ego bigger, by snapping back and putting her in her place? (As if I can presume to know where “her place” is.) Or will I stop to consider that maybe she has worked all day with a migraine, maybe she is caring for her cancer-ridden mother, that she might be heartsick over a fight with her teenager? By taking a beat and letting myself use that Space Between for something good, I can choose to make what follows be for the benefit of someone else, compassion for a malady I will never know about, an act of kindness that advances us all even in its incalculable minuteness. Even the most ordinary moments can be gifts to myself. I can choose to act instead of reacting. I can follow a new and scary plan just this once, independent of all the times I’ve failed. Instead of indulging in the same old controverting, injurious habits or patterns of thinking, I can consciously move forward in a way that feeds my mind, my body, and my spirit with real nourishment instead of self-defeat.

Make no mistake. I am not perfect. I fail at this on a daily basis. I would like to do better.
The Space Between is endless potential. From this one tiny tick in the boundless timescape, this imperceptible moment when breath seems to hold forever, we can move in any direction, and set off chain reactions that can have wondrous outcomes. Does it even matter whether or not we know what those turn out to be?
The Space Between is the blank page, waiting for the story to uncurl like damp petals or clumsy new wings. Or, not as poetic but but every bit as lovely – waiting for the me I am to become the me I want to be. 
I am the pen. I am the empty page.

I am the Space Between.

***
Photo credits, in order of appearance:
Girl Holding the Sunrise, Robert & Mihaela Vicol, public domain 
The Fool, from the Rider-Waite Tarot. Pamela Coleman Smith, a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley for the public domain, and retrieved from Sacred Texts.

Lucky 13: Things I Love About Seattle

My move from Nevada to Seattle was only one part of some drastic life changes for me. After the thrill of a new place had worn off, I went through several months of terrible homesickness. Nevada will always be home in my heart, but if you aren’t changing, you aren’t growing. There are some things about Washington that I love having in my life every day. Here are a few of them, not necessarily in order of preference.
A flock of umbrellas downtown.

1 Rain. It’s the one people seem to think of first, so let’s get it out of the way. When I was preparing to make my move up here, I was ready to punch the next person who said, “You’re moving where? It rains a lot.” It actually rains more in St. Louis, Memphis, Houston, Miami, New York City…lots of places. Yes, it rains a lot here, too. But I am not yet tired of dew-clean air and pattering on the leaves and the roof.

2. Pegasus. Not the mythical horse, although he’s cool too, but Pegasus Coffee House. It’s Seattle’s oldest and best, in my opinion, and has stayed local. If you want these organic teas, coffees, and baked goodies, you have to come and get them. It’s also a cozy place to camp out and write. I’m writing at Pegasus right now, and rain and wind are murmuring at the window.

Life is good.

3. Pike Place Market. Restaurants, fresh organic produce and flowers, exotic treasures, oddities, street music, coffee, sweet treats, the Gum Wall, statues of pigs, fish tossing! You name it, you can find it here. Except for the ghosts. I haven’t found a ghost yet.

With green tea frappaccino from the
original Starbucks, naturally.
Dream Girl loves pigs.
The Mukilteo – Whidbey Island ferry.

4. Whales. I have fallen in love with living so close to the ocean, and it thrilled me the day we saw orcas from the ferry. The Puget Sound/Salish Sea area is home to three pods of approximately 90 killer whales. (Fun fact: orcas are actually the largest members of the dolphin family.)

5. Speaking of ferries — ferries. They’re cool anyway, and with cold water and a breeze, they are the cool place to be on a hot day.
6. Green. I’ve mentioned that I am a native of sand and dry and brown. Even the lawns stay green year-round here, not to mention evergreens and ivy and moss. I love being surrounded by my favorite color.

7. The Great Wheel. Most places you have to wait for a carnival to come to town. The Ferris wheel here was the largest on the west coast when it opened and it extends out over the water of Elliott Bay, off Pier 57. For honor, I am forced to admit that because of my fear of heights, I enjoy other people enjoying it. I still like it. Some day I’ll be the right amount of buzzed to go on it.

8. Liberals. I know, people get really ticked off about politics and I’m not going to go there, other than to say it’s a pleasure to belong to the majority for once. If you like diversity and a culture that embraces it, this is the place to be.

9. Dick’s. Another Seattle institution, Dick’s serves a simple menu of burgers, fries, real ice cream shakes, sodas, and floats. That’s it. You can fill up for about four bucks, less than it would cost to cook it, and at a drive-in, not a drive-thru.

View from the reading room,
Seattle Central Library.

10. This wonderful library. Does a library get any better than this? The building is amazing, and so is the e-lending, allowing me to “go to the library” without even getting off the sofa. Bonus.

11. Football. Not the Seahawks — never! I’m a Forty-Niner Faithful girl. I’m deep in enemy territory up here. It’s fun being a subversive. And the quickest way to get a seat on the train all to yourself in Seattle is to wear your San Francisco gear.

12.  Autumn. Not since my childhood have I lived where Autumn brought such beauty with it. It’s one thing to enjoy photographs of beautiful seasonal color. It’s entirely another to have orange and red and yellow and gold of a thousand different shades, fluttering in the smallest breath of breeze, right in front of you.

13. Sasquatch. There have been more sightings in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere else. I know no one’s proved Sasquatch exists. No one has proved it doesn’t, either. I hope we never prove it, one way or the other. We stupid humans screw up every natural thing we can. I love the idea of that one wild thing that we just can’t seem to get our grubby mitts on.

Rock on, Bigfoot.


Clearly Important Guy and a Brief Foray Into Fair Use

Workday is over. I am headed home for a quiet afternoon and evening, to study and absorb knowledge wonderful knowledge. I snag a good seat on the Metro. I settle in with my book as downtown glides by soundlessly on the other side of the windows.
“…doings discomposed Mr. Bennett exceedingly. In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared AND OF COURSE IT’S GOT ALL THAT SQUARE FOOTAGE WITH THE BASEMENT THAT WE REMODELED INTO A BILLIARDS ROOM AND STUDIO –“
This is not the ordinary cell phone yapper. This is a cell phone bellower. I sigh and turn back to my book, determined to ignore him.

Where was I? “…and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there; his civility, therefore, was AND IT’S BEEN ONLY THIS PAST YEAR THAT WE FINISHED GLASSING IN THE CAUSEWAY BETWEEN THE TWO HALVES there, was most prompt in inviting –“

Other people are leaning forward and twisting around to give him pointed looks. It’s not just me. This guy is LOUD.
Wait. Seriously? This guy must be Very Important indeed if he has a house with a causeway between the two halves of it. I think he must mean a breezeway, but — no.  He says it again. He said causeway. He talks like he’s Thurston Howell the Third. He is wearing a topcoat and a fedora, which is all right, but then I see the leather driving gloves. Dude. It’s 65 degrees, not 25. Not 85. You’re not cruising along Route 66 in your Alfa Romeo with the mahogany steering wheel and the tail of your aviator scarf snapping rakishly behind you. You’re in the northbound commuter lane on I-5 out of Seattle, on the bus with the rest of the peasants.
“…In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that of his AND ALL THE WINDOWS HAVE CORNICHES –“
Dude, you mean cornices. Unless you’re pretending to drive a Corniche instead of the Alfa Romeo I arbitrarily assigned you. Or unless your house is on a cliff and has a corniche road along with the causeway, in which case I’m guessing you have some serious foundational problems.
“He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well-bred…”
No. Crap. Lost my place.
“For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to AND A BEAUTIFUL VIEW OVER THE WATER everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at AND I KNOW WE WANT TO MOVE FAST BUT I REALLY DO THINK WE’RE IN THE THREE-QUARTER MILLION RANGE –“
I drop my book in annoyance and stare at Clearly Important Guy again. Hard. Right now I want my superpower to be the ability to drill twin holes into the side of his head.
“NOT TO BLOW MY OWN HORN BUT I HAD THE WISDOM TO BUY WHEN –“
I dig in my bag for my earbuds, resigned to listening to music whether I want to or not, just to drown out this pompous jerk. No earbuds. Dammit, I loaned them to Dream Girl. Try the book again.
“…veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as..”.
That’s not where I was either.
“…of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector made him AND MARKET CONSIDERATIONS ASIDE I’VE DONE WELL um, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance ALTHOUGH UNFORTUNATELY WE DO HAVE TO PAINT —

Or there.

“BUT I’LL SEE TO THE PAINTING RIGHT AWAY, I THINK YELLOW –“
No, dude. A house belonging to a Clearly Important person such as yourself, and that has its own causeway, cannot be painted yellow. Yellow is for cheery, comfy, cozy houses. A house belonging to you can only be Glowering Thunderhead Gray or Imperator Brown or Darth Vader Black. You can’t even have yellow trim. A few yellow flowers might be okay as long as placement and landscape design are approved by Architectural Digest.
“– OH, ALL OTHER MANNER OF THINGS ARE GRAND, THINGS ARE MOVING ALONG SWIMMINGLY –“
For real? Who says “swimmingly?” Even his haircut is fussy. His e-reader is in one of those fold-up-and-prop-on-an-easel type of display thingies on his lap, because heaven forbid he actually hold his own e-reader like everyone else. Anyone as Clearly Important as he is absolutely would have a house big enough for a causeway to drive his Corniche on.
Digression. You may recognize chopped-up fragments of Pride and Prejudice. The book I was actually trying to read is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, but I respect artists (and I don’t want to get sued) and quoting what I was actually reading would not fall under the Fair Use doctrine. Pride and Prejudice is in the public domain and therefore fair game. Cryptonomicon is a very good book. It’s an excellent book when there’s no phone yapper messing up the flow.
Since it would also violate copyright to post a picture of the cover of Cryptonomicon, and I like blog posts with pictures, I give you this picture of some Metro buses near downtown, my own work. I mean the picture is my own work, not the buses.

I know. The buses and the weather and the neighborhood are all a bit lackluster, although behind me in the International District there can be found good dim sum. But it’s more thematically relevant than a picture of a flower or my dog. I should have taken a picture of Clearly Important Guy. Maybe it would have scared him into thinking he was now being sought by an entire posse on Class N Felony charges.
I’m not even trying to read anymore. “–AND OF COURSE I’M DREADFULLY DISAPPOINTED THAT THE JUDGE ORDERED THE SALE BUT YOU KNOW SHE’S GOT THE HIGH FLYING LAWYER GRATIS DUE TO –“
Oh, okay. I see. You’re reinflating your ego after getting your ass kicked in divorce court. She probably got the Corniche too, which explains why you’re slumming it on the bus.
Driving gloves. Poser.
I feel my phone vibrate in my bag. Normally I don’t answer my phone on the bus, because duh, it’s rude, but it’s Dream Girl and I have a mission.
“Hi,” I say, very loudly. “I really can’t talk now because I’m IN PUBLIC” — pointedly give Clearly Important Guy a meaningful look, which he just as pointedly ignores – “but I do need to remind you to return my earbuds to me, because there’s this guy talking REALLY LOUD ON THE PHONE and I can’t even stick foreign objects into my own ears to block him out.” Clearly Important Guy’s shoulder goes up defensively. I can feel the woman next next to me laughing but I don’t trust myself to look at her because I will splutter guffaws all over the seat back in front of me and this nonsense has really gone far enough. I should be classier than he is.
Besides, we’re at my stop. I get up to deboard and Clearly Important Guy shoots me a dirty look. I mean, if looks could kill. I give him my brightest smile.
And this is why I’m going to hell.

Above: Cell Phone Crashing, Greg Benson/Mediocre Films