Saturday, November 28, 2009


How do we end up where we end up? It's curious to me that humans land in such different spaces: areas where microclimates, based on either weather or politics, are so diverse. I'm wondering if folks naturally migrate to the spots on the planet that seem to fit, as Goldilocks would say, "just right." I was told that one area of the planet that I like a lot would be good for me as it has "more portals." Not sure what that means, but pretty sure I like it. Like the thought of having doorways to whatever is crucial for my well-being. Like the thought of not being in a mental cul-de-sac for the rest of my years. Like the thought of feeling comfortable, each day, waking to an environs that welcomes a creature as weird as this one...

The trick, of course, is finding that spot. My favored authors--Dillard, Erhlich, Williams, Bass, Oliver--extoll their special places. New England woods, Wyoming range, southern Utah desert, Montana mountains, Atlantic seaboard all welcome these scribes. Each scape offers a unique treasure to the writer who's open, who's aware: Terry Tempest Williams slices, not just a tongue, but a heart, with her rendering of cutting an avocado in hot red sand. Mary Oliver spurs grins with the gaiety of her daily seashore strolls. Gretel Erhlich, whose intensity sometimes triggers tears, displays the limitless expanse of western wildland in a way that makes all covetous. Rick Bass' quiet chat about the Yaak Valley, the domesticity of living among four-legged creatures, is soothing and sweet.

I'd love to live in the desert, on the seashore, in the high mountains, or on the range but, unfortunately, I have to live in an urban, or semi-urban area to make ends meet. My evenings aren't to be shared with howling coyotes, I'm afraid, or with wheeling rounds of terns. So, given the limitations of making ends meet, what is one to do when looking for a place that fits "just right?"

Wonder how we end up in the spots we deem as "Home Sweet Home." Are we creatures of habit, following the well-worn treads of our ancestors? Are we rebels, scoffing at the warnings of our elders, as we head out the door to settle in unexplored nests? Are we just nonchalant: landing somewhere between where we're hatched and where we die, whatever..?" Do genetics shoot us full of momentum or lull us into stassis? Or do the wild circumstances of our environs---whether streaming from dinner table conversation or electronic impulse of radio, TV, computer---determine whether we come or we go?

I know of folks who wouldn't leave their hometowns for billions and others who'd be off in a flash if the chance were presented. Me, I'm a curious observer. I like the town I'm in. It's okay. Not too big; not too small. Not too snobby; not too much lowlife. And yet...presented the opportunity to migrate to a place where portals await, I'd probably be packing my bags and heading on down the road.

A curious thing, the phenomenon called "place." Why do we end up where we do?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Last night I'm flying home from northern Washington, cruising high over wilderness areas on a clear, star-studded night. Perfect for checking out who's out. I put my face next to the plane window and stare. Great reflections of the reading and aisle lights behind me. That's not going to work. I try something else. My hooded coat is perfect: toss the hood on my head and use the hood to seal the window. Excellent. I now have a stellar view of the night sky, untainted by the lights in the metal tube that's carrying me home.

The sight is magnificent: below me, the curved earth is dark. No lights in the Seven Devils. No lights in the Eagle Caps. Few lights in the spaces in between. Lovely. The planet is black satin. Round, sable, rich, soaking in ideas, sparks, flashes. I'm liking this a lot. No mercury vapor standards blaring vigilance across acres and more. No twin pyraminds of yellowed light prancing before vehicles along straight, light-ratched strips of road. No conglomerate of insanely bright beacons shouting "Car Lot!" or "Shopping Mall!" I'm liking this a lot.

Then I turn my eyes upward. Oh my goodness. The flight sky has never looked like this. Milky Way streaks herself across the pane. Oh. Look at the white blush of star, planet, nebula. Look how this old, old light streaks the plane's night sky. Look how the remnants of light centuries gone decorate this window pane. I haven't seen this before, from this height. I've seen it from the frosted pastures of Valley County, the subalpine slopes of the Windriver Range, and the wind-carved desert of Monument Valley, but I've never seen it from up here, from a perch thousands of feet above the globe's crust. This is different. I'm liking this a lot.

I've never sealed my in-flight view this way, never framed that precious scene outside. Wonder what my plane-mates are thinking: the strange woman tucking the hood around her head and sticking it to the window. She's still there. She hasn't moved. What can be so fascinating that she'd press her forehead to the pane for sixty minutes or more? Hello. What about the free airline snacks and the beverage cart?

Not the first time I've been regarded as eccentric and probably not the last. But I know that any future night flights of mine will most likely involve pressing my face against a window and sealing out the riff-raff of ambient light so I can savor the joyous stellar bursts dancing above the planet. While I'm up there, I might as well check it out, don't you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Give It Up For....

I'm off the tour circuit, having just returned from treks with my daughter to bask in the splendor that is Ozomatli, catching them in Portland, Boise and Salt Lake (I didn't do the Seattle gigs...dang!). I'm exhausted. I'm asking myself, "Why not just savor the incredible diversity of their musical genius in the comfort of my living room?" Gosh, I have the brown suede couch, the nice hardwood floors, the wonderful vintage landscape photos, the thriving plants, the attentive golden retriever, the okay sound system...why would I trade this all for a live gig? What am I, nutz?

The answer lies, I think, in the exchange of facial expression and gesture between artist and appreciator. The sounds I hear at live shows aren't substantially different from those in my living fact, they may be of lesser quality. They may be hampered by rowdies (like the big guy singing behind me last night...Give it a rest, Dude). They may be diminished by ear plugs, kind of a given at most live shows. For me, the plugs make the show more comfortable, but they cut out some cool stuff I'm used to hearing. The sounds may be limited by the acoustics of the venue: super last night, but not always the case.

Why, then, do I want to trade my serene salon for the sticky-floor, giddy-chick, pushy scene that is a live concert? Connection. Yeah, that's it. The immediacy of these artists magnifies the music. The percussion is the same; guitar the same; lyrical cantos the same. It's the presence.

These artists are right in front of me. If I were rude, I could touch them. They are creating, just for me. The aesthetic process is unfurling before my eyes and ears. Their reason for being is vivid: they live to perform. I am so grateful for this commitment. I can see joy in their eyes as they watch the audience roar in a tsunami of appreciation. I can see true agape as they work with each other to cover little mishaps that might mar the show. I can see the crescendo of satisfaction that each has as he plays a "solo" that stamps a five-star rating on the evening.

I think of my other artist friends: the lovely quilter from Beaverton, the beautifully strange print-maker and potter from eastern Idaho, the Viet Nam vet who writes "manly" novels AND romantic poetry, the stained-glass genius who builds rock walls in her spare time. I ask myself about aesthetic commitment. "I live for my art. My art IS my life." The artists who are Ozomatli give up normalcy in their lives so I can enjoy the connection of gesture and expression that is a live concert.

I am truly blessed by their willingness to do so.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It Matters

Those recruits cough up two,
four, six years for me.
Give up Friday's pool games and
Sunday's sauntering brunches.
Tuck away days to mark births,
hoping the catch-ups will recoup skipped joy.
Turn away from the sprints
of kids, nieces, and nephews,
racing from infancy to teen over a night.
Watch their peers climb busy ladders
to prestige and flashy titles.
Draw comfort, not from the hugs of moms,
grandmas, wives, husbands, daughters, sons,
but from the rowdy backslaps of their buds.
Crouch on boxes through nights without light.
Sweat on cots lined against hot clay walls,
execution style.

They do it for me.

Lay life on line, each day,
each sweltered, reddened night,
for me.

It matters. To me.

from The Silence of Bright Star
by Susan Lowman-Thomas

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Make It So

I've studied customer service tenets for decades and I've learned from the best, the Pooles, an Oregon family corporation dedicated to the notion that all employees exist for one reason: to serve the customer. But all my training, all my expectations were trumped this week at a lovely Portland, Oregon, hotel, the Hotel Deluxe ( How did this happen? With three little, teeny words: "Make It So." The phrase wasn't posted on the door. Wasn't inscripted on the hotel registration. Wasn't beamed through employees' gritted grins. Where was it? In my room, on the desk, on the nightstand, on the phone.

"Make It So." What did this mean? Well, I learned that, if I didn't like any of the five pillows on the bed, I could hit the "Make It So" buttton on the phone and request other pillows, choosing from a menu of seven options of softness, size and shape.

"Make It So." If I'd left on my Oregon journey in such a haste that I'd forgotten my iPod, I was still okay. I could hit the "Make It So" button on my phone and, voila, one with my kind of music (six options) would be delivered to my room. What a relief!

"Make It So." What else did this mean for me? Amazingly, it meant spiritual survival. I could peruse the Spiritual Menu near the desk phone and request the tome that best fit my current religious needs. Did I need the Tao? Or a King James bible? Or was the Koran the best choice for my soul today? All I had to do was choose and hit the "Make It So" button. Salvation has never been this easy.

I was impressed. Sure, the hotel was delightful, everything the website promised. But this was different. This was magic. This was fairy-godmother, shooting star magic. "Make It So." Cinderella must have voiced the phrase as the little critters twirled around her ashen feet. Jack's beans must have cheered each other on this way as they soared their green stems heaven-ward. Yearning for Kansas, Dorothy must have prayed this phrase.

Wouldn't it be great to have "Make It So" buttons in our lives? There are lots of things I'd like to request for our planet, country, and state. And my family and friends...wouldn't I love to choose health and serenity for them and "Make It So"...just with the push of a button?

Maybe I can't do that but there is something I can do. I can carry out my life's work, serving external and internal customers, in my paying job as well as my other life business, with the same kind of mindset. I can pretend I do have a "Make It So" button. When I hear a request, whether it's seeking information or an attentive ear, I'll focus on the request and then push that imaginary button. When my customer offers up the gift of a request, I will just "Make It So."