Tuesdays

Tuesdays are my favorite–not because it’s taco Tuesday, which is my ASL instructor’s reasoning–but because it’s my bookstore day! And today is a particularly good Tuesday, because it’s sunny and in the seventies, spring has sprung even though it’s only calendar-official tomorrow, and my Book of the Month book arrived in the mail today.

It seems wildly appropriate to me that I should’ve selected Queenie as my title for this month since the sample page, which happens to be the novel’s first page, has the protagonist in stirrups at the gynecologist’s office, and BOTM’s advertising is basically one great big period joke. I love it! Their commercial features various women saying things like, “I really look forward to getting mine every month” and “I just started mine,” and “Dude, me too. We’re synced!” and “It’s so heavy, I cried.”

On my short walk home from the bookstore, I popped into Cookie Counter and bought myself a vegan open-faced ice cream sandwich and also a Pay-It-Forward order for some lucky stranger. The note I pinned to the board reads: 1 open-faced sandwich for someone who is embarking on a new beginning. Happy Spring!

What can I say? I’m in a good mood. And I did resolve to be a more generous person back in January. It feels nice to keep this promise to myself.

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Giving Birth

I went to my SO’s sister’s baby shower last weekend, where, aside from the one 14-year-old guest present, I was the youngest woman in the room. It was somewhat reassuring because I’m no longer young enough that people deem me too young for things like marriage and children. Twenty-seven. I’m old enough to vote, drink, rent a car.

My mom had me at twenty-three. My brother at twenty-five. At twenty-seven, she had two young children. Me? I wasn’t ready at twenty-three, or twenty-five.

I’m not ready now, but sometimes I think my life would be so much more straightforward if what I wanted most was to be a mother, to have a baby.

But what I want most is to write books. Writing is the thing that gives shape to days, purpose and direction to my life. I’ve quit jobs for the sake of my writing, and I’ve kept jobs for the sake of my writing. I’ve read countless articles and books on the writing process, the habits of successful writers, how to be a better writer. I’ve taken classes, and I’ve sought community. I’ve felt like I was born for this and like it’s the most natural thing in the world, but I’ve also felt like I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing. Sometimes I’m sure this was my decision, and other times I’m sure that the decision was already made for me. It’s something I work at every single day.

Of course, there aren’t perfect parallels for giving creative birth and giving actual birth–especially because with babies the gestational period is nine months and books have been known to take years–but suffice it to say that this is my life right now and I like it.

Talking Hands

Tonight will be my second Beginning American Sign Language (ASL) class, and I am so excited! I’ve spent some time this morning on YouTube reviewing my ASL alphabet and Who/What/Where/When/Why/How signs, working to build ease and confidence in my signing.

I’ve wanted to learn for years and years.

When my little brother was diagnosed with autism about two decades ago, there was talk of him learning the language. I remember my mother teaching me the signs for yes, no, and bathroom. But my brother ended up using other, more technological speech aids and signing never became a necessity for our communication.

Then, three years ago, I started a day job–one I never planned on having, never dreamed of having–working with small children, and lo’ and behold, there it was again: that mysterious and beautiful language, articulated by hands. I learned more practical signs, signs that I use every day at work: thank you, please, sorry, more, help, and also eat/food, drink, milk, diaper.

And while that is all good, great, and lovely, I wanted more.

I attended a spoken and signed production of Midsummer Night’s Dream here in Seattle via the Sound Theatre Company; I read Whitney Gardner’s fantastic YA novel You’re Welcome, Universe; and I was delighted to discover ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, which not only appealed to my interest in sign language, but also to my love of teenage soap operas. The show taught me even more sign language and educated me on so many things I didn’t know or understand about Deaf Culture.

And now I’m finally taking this class! It’s wonderfully immersive–there is very little talking done with our mouths–and I am so eager to continue learning.

Meditate On That

A week ago tonight, my best friend suggested we go to Seattle’s Shambhala Meditation Center for their weekly open community practice. And I thought, Oh God, I don’t know if I’m mentally prepared for this. I’ve gone before, not on a Thursday evening, but on Sunday morning. It’s an hour-long practice; twenty minutes sitting meditation followed by ten minutes walking meditation followed by twenty more minutes of sitting followed by ten final minutes of walking. Just you, and a handful of other people who are also sitting/walking inside of themselves, in a room filled with cushions and incense and silence. The occasional reverberating sound of a gong being struck.

It’s a lot.

We went, and I cried during the first twenty minutes. Apparently this is tradition when Christine comes to visit me. We go do something mindful, and I bawl my eyes out, because sitting/walking with myself means sitting/walking with my grief.

Anyway, the young woman who led the practice had introduced herself to us before the practice began. I’d been caught off guard by my name coming out of her mouth, because it was her name, too.

Different spelling. Same pronunciation.

It’s not a hard name to say, but in my experience it’s been hard for people to remember.

She spells hers A-n-n-i-c-a, and I spell mine A-n-i-k-a, but the famous golfer of the 90’s/early 2000’s spells it A-n-n-i-k-a. We’ve both heard of her.

I lie about my name in many spaces. I go by my middle name because it’s one syllable. It’s also my late paternal grandfather’s name and deeply midwestern: Jo.

Annica explains to me that she was raised by Buddhists and that there’s yet another spelling of our name: A-n-i-c-c-a.

Anicca is the Buddhist word for impermanence. (Wow! Cue the existential dread!)

I know of only two other meanings for my name: gracious, and sweetness of face.

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LDF

My best friend’s plane landed in Seattle last night! It’s been three years since her last visit out here, and my life looks a lot different now. There are so many things I’ve been so excited to finally show her in person: the house I live in now with my significant other Rylan, who she’s only ever met via Facebook chat and FaceTime; my favorite Greenwood Indian restaurant; the tea place I’m always sending her looseleaf from; the independent bookstore I started working at just four months ago; and a million other places.

I know exactly how she must have felt when I visited her in Nashville a little less than two years ago, and again this past July when I spent a few days on her family’s farm outside of Iowa City. That was the last time I saw her: almost 7 months ago. This is par for the course when your best friend lives over a thousand miles away.

We do what we can to keep in touch long-distance: texting, voice messaging, and FaceTime dates. But it’s so special when we finally get to meet up in person.

There’s always been a little bit of geographical distance to contend with in our friendship, because we grew up in towns 30 miles apart and attended different high schools. Back then we spent copious amounts of time chatting on MSN messenger and making the most of our summer and winter breaks.

We only see each other a couple of times a year now, and we happily take what we can get. When I flew to Chicago for a wedding, she drove eight hours from Nashville on the off-chance we could meet up for lunch. On another occasion I booked a spontaneous and short-notice trip to Iowa for several weeks and we ended up with a single day of overlap in our traveling schedules. We typically get a few hours here or a few days there unless we plan carefully and far enough in advance. Then we might get a glorious full week of adult slumber parties and adventures.

Before she arrived this time, I jokingly told her that she’s not allowed to visit me in Seattle ever again after this. That she’s cursed. Because three years ago, a week and a half before her scheduled visit, my (paternal) grandma died. And this year, a month before this visit, both my cat and (maternal) grandma died. I call it “The Christine Curse!” I’m afraid that next time, the pattern continuing, she’ll take out my dad, mom, and brother.

Of course, now that she’s actually here it’s obvious that her timing is a blessing, not a curse.

I’m still heartbroken. I’m so lucky to have her here.

Still-Life

On my wooden bedside table–a $13 Goodwill purchase–there’s my phone, displaying the time and charging. A half-eaten green apple. Three used tissues. A mug from Aromas Coffee, my favorite hometown coffeeshop, steaming. The tag at the end of my teabag, still steeping, reads: Love is to live for somebody, love is not to live with somebody. Beneath my mug, there’s a spongy coaster featuring a grinning teacup, telling me to “calm the hell down.”

There’s a white lamp that looks like it’s straight out of Pixar animation, shining a light on my stack of books and journals: my 2019 Do-It-All planner, an ARC of Friday Black, a 5-year Q&A journal, my Kindle paperwhite, a pretty notebook that’s supposed to log my gratitude but mostly contains my sloppy thoughts and sloppier handwriting. A glittery black pen, poised on top of the stack, three white-lettered words stitched into its side:  smash the patriarchy.

Also on my nightstand: a box of unused tissues. Two containers for water: a purple plastic cup that’s three-quarters full and just out of my reach, and a scuffed green metal water canteen from my Alaska Zipline Adventure that contains maybe a drop to drink. At the farthest corner of the tabletop there’s a microwaveable eye mask that’s stuffed with lavender and made to look like a lamb, wrapped around a brown bottle of herbal oil that’s wearing a pale blue dress and offering Tranquility.

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Good morning!

Lobster Dinner

When I was eighteen, my boyfriend at the time took it upon himself to cook me a lobster dinner for Valentine’s Day. Chris believed it to be a most romantic endeavor. And perhaps it would’ve been had he not continuously spent the day making self-complimentary remarks and saying things like, “See how good at I am to you? You think anyone else would do this for you?”

Even at the time the gesture seemed more about him than me.

Today, my SO and I spent hours picking out cat supplies at Mud Bay in preparation for our foster cat orientation on Saturday, hopeful that we’ll be able to bring home a foster kitty on what will be our third dating anniversary. We stopped by Chocolati because Rylan thought I should have nice things, but all I wanted was to pick out my own box of chocolate-covered strawberries at Fred Meyer. We stopped there next, where it was easy to become distracted by the many men walking briskly to the checkout lines with bouquets of flowers choked in their hands and giant red balloons flailing behind them.

When we arrived at the checkout we quickly realized that separately our purchases would’ve indicated that we were each in for a night of solo comfort eating. (Think lots of Oreo cookies and Cheetos.) But we checked out together.

At home, Rylan cooked for us, we shared a bottle of wine, and we watched a romantic zombie movie together on the couch.

I sighed halfway through our meal and said to him, “You know, you’ve never made me a lobster dinner.” And he replied, “Well, I mean, I would, but I think you’d be offended.” (I’m a vegetarian now.) We laughed easily about it.

I like the way I’m loved now.

The Art of Commuting

On today’s afternoon commute I took a seat in the middle of the bus, heading downtown on the E-Line. I took the book I was reading out of my bag, removed the postcard holding my place, and stuck it between the very last page and the back cover. I love holding onto a book in public spaces; the way it gives me something to do with my hands, lessens the chance of unwanted social interactions, and advertises my love of reading.

But even with my nose in a book, I’m generally still hyper-aware of my surroundings. (I’ve only ever missed my stop twice!) I’m less concerned with where exactly the bus is on its route than I am attuned to what fellow commuters are up to around me. It’s typically pretty quiet at noon on a Wednesday, and today was no exception.

Only I had this peculiar feeling that I was being watched.

Casually, I glanced up and around the bus and noticed the guy sitting catty-corner from me: early twenties, skinny, white, glasses, dark blonde curly hair. He had a sketchpad in his lap. A pencil in his hand.

I returned to my book, my eyes scanning the page from left to right, but then I couldn’t help but notice the way this guy kept looking up from his sketchpad every few pencil strokes. I told myself he probably wasn’t even facing me. There have been plenty of times I’ve convinced myself that someone in my periphery was staring at me only to look up and see them spacing off in the opposite direction.

But, wanting to know one way or the other, I gave up and glanced his way.

There was a split-second of eye contact. He was definitely drawing me. I felt squirmy and flattered all at once. The thing about being a woman in public is that you can never quite forget that you have a body. Everybody’s a mirror. So I changed my grip on my book, sat up a little straighter, and, realizing my lips were parted, I pressed them together.

Many months ago, I shared my evening commute home with a man at least twice this guy’s age who told me he used to work for Disney as (I think) an illustrator. The bus that night was packed, and I asked him how did he decide who to draw? He was finishing up a sketch of a man sitting in front of us, whose profile we had a clear view of. “This guy has a great-shaped head,” he told me. “You know what his head-shape says about him? It says that he had a mother who loved him.”

When he finished the drawing, he tore it from his sketchbook and handed it to the man. The man, seeing what he’d been given, brightened and thanked the artist.

“Mostly, though, I draw pretty girls,” the artist admitted. Just about then two young women boarded the bus, and they sat in the row of seats before us. The artist started sketching the prettier of the two. She had long straight hair and a pretty, ski-slope nose.

It’s strange and sweet to think that some approximation of my image is saved in some fellow commuter’s notebook. I know it, and he likely knows that I know it. But he probably doesn’t realize that I’ve preserved some image of him, too, even if it’s just a few words on a blog.

Snow Daze

All this Seattle snowfall has had me cooped up in the house for most of the weekend–And it’s been a long weekend. It hasn’t been the worst thing, because it’s weather conducive to a lot of things I enjoy: reading books, writing, drinking hot tea, cuddling and napping, and streaming and watching movies and TV shows on Netflix.

Unfortunately, it’s all been a little bittersweet without my favorite snow day partner:

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It’s been a month today since my beautiful boy died, and I miss him so much.

This Saturday, my SO and I were supposed to go to a foster cat orientation. I’d been hopeful for weeks that we’d have a foster kitty running around the house, or even just hiding somewhere in the house, on this day. But it didn’t work out that way. Our orientation got pushed back a week because of the forecast.

I’m hopeful it won’t get pushed back another week.

Over this past month I’ve been consoling myself by memorializing Sawyer in every way I can think of. I had his body cremated and his ashes returned to me in a pretty cherrywood box; I baked a clay mold of his paw print; I wrote a Facebook post and a personal essay; I sorted all the photographs I have of him–nearly 500 of them!–into digital albums, and then I created and ordered a photo book.

I guess you could say fostering is the final plan I have for honoring his memory.

In the meantime, I haven’t been sure what to do with myself. Sawyer’s absence is its own presence in our house. Over the last few weeks of his life, I was acutely aware of where he was, that he wasn’t spending much time in the places he loved, and that he was taking up much less space. Instead of claiming the upstairs as his kingdom or sprawling out in our bed or surveying the land from atop his cat tree, he spent a lot of time low to the ground, curled up under a desk or a piano or a table in the kitchen. During his last two days, he stayed holed up in the bathroom, where we’d relocated all of his belongings.

Since he died, I’ve been grief cleaning. I don’t know what else to call it. It started with sorting through his things and deciding what to keep, what to donate, and finally what to throw away. At first it was just practical cleaning, such as sweeping up litter and vacuuming up cat hair, and also reorganizing to fill the empty spaces left behind.

But then I couldn’t stand the clutter on the shelves in the bathroom, my make-up spilled all over the counter, the toothpaste leftover in the sink, the pink residue from my body wash staining the shower walls. The ugly dresser with the drawers coming off the rails sent me into a blind rage. The dishes in the kitchen sink made me restless. All the books, tea-stained mugs, and puzzle pieces scattered across the living room coffee table ceased to make the room look cozy and lived-in and instead made the space feel cramped and unlivable. And why did we have so much goddamn unopened mail?

The energy in the house was all wrong!

It wasn’t like I didn’t already dislike all the beard hair in the sink or that old dresser with its misaligned drawers before Sawyer died, but without him all these mild annoyances became major grievances. How was I supposed to feel at home in this house when all these little things were conspiring to make me so stressful and unhappy?

My SO Rylan–wonderful man that he is–has humored me through all of this. Over these last few weeks I’ve dragged him to IKEA and Target and a local plant nursery. Just today I sent him outside in the snow and down into the laundry room to reset our breaker when I blew a fuse running the vacuum, and I talked his ear off about Marie Kondo’s clothes folding methods and had him sit through two episodes of Tidying Up on Netflix.

My darling cat is still dead, but our house looks pretty adorable.

Anticipating

Back in high school, a friend of mine told me that our English teacher had going on about the importance of rough drafts in class. She’d explained that everyone needed to write one and turn one in. Except then apparently she added the caveat: “Unless you’re Anika. Because she does it right the first time.”

I was incredibly pleased and flattered by this golden nugget of information, but it (mis)led me to believe, years later, that the first manuscript I’d ever written was my first novel and not just a shitty first draft. I felt sort of underwhelmed by the whole thing; not just the product, but also the process. Was this really all there was to it?

As it turned out: no. Absolutely not.

Initially, learning that I wasn’t finished–that, in fact, I was just getting started–was a huge bummer. I’d deluded myself into thinking this was it, my book, my chance; I was going to land an agent before college graduation and get a publishing deal before my student loans kicked in!

Fortunately for me, I discovered that my favorite part of writing is rewriting. I was never going to get it right the first time. It took me a dozen drafts–and breaks between those drafts, and thoughtful feedback from readers, and a lot of reading and research–to make it right: to turn this vague idea in my head into words on a page, and then to arrange the words on the page into the story I needed to tell.

Since I’ve started writing my second novel, I’ve decided a few things: 1) I kind of hate first drafts, 2) Writing a novel is different every time, and 3) It’s really important to celebrate the completion of each draft.

I spoiled myself a little when I purposefully scheduled my first draft deadline to coincide with a long-planned family vacation to Kauai, Hawaii. But when I completed the second draft, I simply walked a victory lap around Green Lake, and for the third draft, I celebrated with a trip to the Sunday Market and treated myself to Indian food for lunch.

I’ll admit I didn’t celebrate the fourth draft even though I finished it just after the New Year. But it came at a merciful time, and I feel weirdly grateful for that fact. Otherwise I probably would’ve had to set it down–not so that it could breathe, but so that I could.

Right now I’m working on the fifth draft–well, the approximation of a fifth draft, because I’m really focusing on the last 16,000 words–and my Projected Completion Date is just nine days from now, which just so happens to be the day my best friend flies in.

How great is that?