Monthly Archives: April 2016


I wash my clothes by hand – all of them. Detergent sensitivities prevent me from using my landlord’s washer and dryer, or public facilities.

Pain in the ass.
Until recently.

I bought a small, hand-cranked washing machine with a pressurized lid. It cleans like a front-load washer. I can fit my entire sheet set inside, including the pillow case. (Yeah, it’s a twin bed, but still!)

My biceps complained, initially, but then I got used to it. On cold mornings it’s a great warm-up. I use less detergent, and my clothes are softer and cleaner. And about a month after I stopped forcing myself to use others’ stinky machines, my lungs breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now they’re much more inclined to inhale deeply.

Tidying guru Marie Kondo believes you should only keep things that bring you happiness and contentment. She recommends divesting yourself of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

Now that I hand wash my clothes, I’ve noticed a certain reluctance to clean certain things. Because I am using my physical energy, as opposed to money (which I earn with my physical energy, but is now a step distant), I am reluctant to wash the t-shirt a not-a-friend-it-turned-out gave me. Or the mawkish Thanksgiving apron. Or the much loved, bought-brand-new-when-I-was-homeless hoodie that is showing wear and tear.

With big electric washers and dryers, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of clothes without thinking too much about them. White? in you go. Blue and purple? next load.

Washing my own clothes with my own brawn (and brains! figuring out the best cloth-to-water ratio has proved not as easy as advertised) is actually quite satisfying.

Today, inspired by Ms. Kondo, I sang a song of gratitude while I washed: the black v-neck I wore to star in a play; the shirt bought at Whole Foods when I was living in my car; the patterned leggings that kept me warm this winter; the soft black dress that reminds me of the one left behind; the chocolate brown tunic from France; and the underwear that literally covers my ass.

Just as every person has a story (or a million), every piece of clothing has a story, and as I washed, I remembered their stories (or the parts I know), and how each one came to me exactly when I needed it.

They are dripping dry over the tub right now, my riotous clothes, my protective gear, my personable apparel. Cleansed of sweat, sand, salt, dirt, and tears.
Domo arigato.


The Marriage of Emmett and Sasha

Picture this:
Two big black dogs with bushy tails. Both gregarious, and subject to roaming sans companion. Often mistaken one for the other by undiscerning humans.

One is the strong silent type: tall, dark, and handsome, he sometimes smells like the fish he just rolled in. The other is chatty and barky and smells like a rose.

One Malamute mix = Emmett.
One Newfoundland mix = Sasha.

“Emmett’s here,” says Martha on the phone, “he just came over from Willow’s.”

I look out the window: he’s in the yard. “I don’t think so,” I reply, but Martha’s insistent until I manage to get in, “I’m looking at him.”

When I first moved to Lybarger Street and was getting the lay of the land with Emmett, two neighbors, strangers, on separate occasions, lectured me vehemently on the leash laws. “Oh, now he’s on a leash,” sneered – yes, sneered! – an immaculately coiffed older woman walking past us down the hill.

I was taken aback; I’d never seen her before. “Where do you live,” I asked tiredly. It had been a hard move.

“Why?” she demanded to know.

As non-threateningly as possible, I said, “So we can avoid your street.” And we did, for several years, manage to avoid her block, even though it was just around the corner from our house and on the way to the grocery store.

It wasn’t until years after we met Sasha, who lived two streets over and half a block up, that I finally put it all together, the mistaken identities. I realized that (1) Sasha had a bad reputation in some circles, and (2) if you’ve seen one big black dog, you’ve seen ‘em all, apparently. Perhaps humans look alike to canines, too.

Dinah, however, Sasha’s human, was enthusiastic about Emmett’s presence in the ‘hood. Playdates ensued as soon as I got over her extremely warm welcome. It had been awhile since someone was happy to see me. Emmett, though, considered them family fairly quickly. If he wasn’t in our yard, he was usually in Sasha’s. Dinah and I had each other on speed dial.

Over the years, Emmett and Sasha had many sleepovers, depending on which human had to go out of town. Dinah began introducing Emmett as Sasha’s boyfriend. Then they were engaged. And then, one day, Dinah decided they were married. A secret, dog-only affair, evidently. I made a crockpot of bison stew for the newlyweds.

The humans’ work schedules were slightly different. I went to my job in Tumwater earlier, so I walked Emmett over to Sasha’s in the morning. Dinah brought them back to my yard on the way to her job in Lacey, so when I came home in the afternoon, I was hailed by the best housemates I’ve ever had. Talk about welcoming! “Hi honies, I’m home!”

One year, I went to France with my mother, but only after I cleared it with Dinah. “Are you up for two weeks of Emmett?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she replied confidently, “it’ll be fun!”

While I was gone, she was kind enough to respond to my worried, hurried emails from Montgeron. “Emmett’s fine! We just got back from Burfoot Park! Although Sasha misses your chicken broth.”

(Emmett and I ate the same things, mainly: fish, fowl, rabbit, bison, potatoes, carrots, apples. The crockpot was full most days, and was a big hit with Sasha; I usually spooned a meaty broth over their dry food. Eventually, Sasha nicknamed me the Chicken Lady.)

When the airport shuttle dropped me at the top of the drive after 15 days away, I couldn’t get down to the gate fast enough. Such a reception! Bouncing, jumping, grinning – and that was just me!

They’re gone now, both Emmett and Sasha, or, rather, they’ve left their bodies behind. A true gentleman, Emmett went first. A year later, almost to the day, Sasha relieved herself of her cancerous frame, too.

Picture this:
Two big black dogs with bushy tails, one quiet, one barky, playing in the snow.
Both contagious with joy.

Sand Song

Here is a song I wrote about sand and ocean.
You can hear me sing it here:

Sand Song

You’ve got sand in your hair
There is sand everywhere
You’ve got sand in your hair
My Darling, my darling

You’ve got sand on your knees
Get rid of it please!
You’ve got sand on your knees
My Darling, my darling

There is sand in the bed
It came from your head!
I heard what you said
My Darling, my darling, my darling, my darling

Ocean! Ocean!
How do you plead?
Ocean! Ocean!
Exactly what we need

You’ve got sand in your toes
There is sand up your nose!
You’ve got sand in your toes
My darling, my darling

You’ve got sand in your eyes
You say that is why
You cry and you hide
My Darling, my darling, my darling, my darling

Ocean! Ocean!
How do you plead?
Ocean! Ocean!
Exactly what I need

You’ve got sand in your ears
You can’t hear what I hear
You’ve got sand in your ears
My Darling, my darling, my darling

I. Love. You.

in the way of joy

On my desk, behind my laptop, is Sylvia Earle’s illustrated atlas of the oceans. All of them. Big book. Heavy. Marvelous: full of marvels from around the planet, like sargassum, whale sharks, flashlight fish. Lately I’ve had it open to page 194: a picture of an Andaman Islands elephant in the Indian Ocean. Swimming Ganesh! Remover of oceanic obstacles!

My father recently disclosed that he’s been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He has no symptoms, but the results of one test (of many many many over the years, including bone marrow – ouch) came back in the red zone, as it were. He’s contemplating chemotherapy.

This, of course, was extremely upsetting to hear. Without any further ado, I burst into tears. Uncontrollable sobs. Time out.

Since then, I’ve been angry (how dare he!), scared, and subject to fits of weeping. But the fact is, I’ve been waiting for news like this my whole life, ever since my brother died – “what? where is he? when’s he coming back?” – of brain cancer almost 50 years ago. I’ve lived in fear of fatal catastrophes removing my mother, my father, my other brother, at any moment.

“Put yourself in the way of beauty,” Cheryl Strayed’s mother told her, in the memoir Wild. Having read the book (which pissed me off — more on that later, maybe), I watched the film a few weeks ago. The phrase stuck and turned itself into a ditty. One morning I woke up, donned my wetsuit, hoodie, and gloves, and set out for the beach. “Put yourself in the way of swimmin’, put yourself in the way of swimmin’,” I sang into the crisp dawn air.

Sure enough, I found folks to swim with, six total! Since then, I swim most mornings, usually alone, if one can be alone in the big, wide, chock-full Pacific. I just needed a bit of moral support, until I remembered, yeah, I can do this. I need this, no matter how cold it is. Total mood elevator. They don’t call it ‘sea-change’ for nuthin’.

When I finally figured out that my Olympia house was killing me with toxic mold, I evacuated. Got myself to the ocean. Got myself back in the way of happiness, and eventually, of joy. I don’t know why it’s such a struggle to remember what is truly important. Perhaps it’s the chatter of the world, our human species, the self-importance of so-called ‘success.’

If I were my dad — and I do know that I’m not, individuation has had its slow effect — I’d high-tail it to the mountains, where he’s happiest. Where he’s most himself. Breathe that rare air, take in the wildflowers. Build a shack. Watch the hawks. Look for mountain lions.

But he’s in charge of his body, just as I am in charge of mine. Or responsible, anyway. So I look at my elephant swimming in the blue ocean. Ears floating, legs treading, snorkel trunk out — she seems to be laughing. And definitely in the way of joy.