Thursday, March 28, 2013
When I first met Neil, I was at a cocktail party at my parents’ house.
My parents have always been social. In the years since they started living full time at the coast, their parties have included even more of the rag-tag group they’ve always attracted: fellow retirees, commercial fishermen, builders, and just about anyone else they find interesting. Gatherings at their house are always fun, and although I still feel a bit like the little kid allowed to politely visit with the adults, these days, at least I have a drink in my hand, too.
It was at one of these get-togethers that I first noticed Neil. “Who is that?” I asked my dad, sotto voce, in the kitchen.
“He’s an old Swede that lives down the street. We don’t really know anything about him. Why don’t you go talk to him, and find out his story.”
A not unusual request. Over the years, I’m often asked to draw quiet people out at parties. I’m chatty, and I’m truly interested in people, so getting a conversation going with someone new has never been difficult.
I walked over to Neil and sat down. “So, you live down the street?”
“I’m retired,” he twinkled at me. Tall and ruddy-faced, he dominated the living room.
“What did you do before you retired?”
“I was a commercial photographer. I worked for Boeing, flying around the world taking photos of crash sites.”
“I also used to write. I had a number of articles in Sunset when I was younger, with photos.”
Oh. He could have said “I was the CEO of Ford,” and I wouldn’t have been half as interested. A photographer? Crash sites? Sunset Magazine!
We talked for a long time that evening, as he told me the secret to getting published in Sunset (“Anything with kids. They love stories about family activities.”) and about his love of photography (I’m just one more idiot documenting everything with an iPhone, who also collects vintage cameras. He was experienced shooting with 8mm, 16mm and every lens you’ve never heard of).
We became fast friends.
Over the years, I would email Neil when I had something published, or with some bit of writing I thought he might enjoy. He sent me one or two-line responses, like “Good job, kiddo. Keep it up.”
And I’d see him now and then at my parents’ house. He’d been voted in as director of the neighborhood beach club and my dad said he was kept busy with the ongoing litany of complaints from residents. When I asked Neil about it, he just rolled his eyes. “It never ends.” We didn’t see him as much after that, but my parents regularly invited him to dinner when I was visiting.
One time, he said he would have made a pie, but was running late.
“Oh you don’t bake,” my mom and I laughed at him. “Please. A bachelor, living on his own? Baking pies?” He laughed with us, shaking his head.
The next morning, he showed up, pie in hand. “Just so you know I’m a man of my word,” he winked at me.
Another time, Neil brought me a vintage movie camera for my collection. “It’s my favorite.” A Bolex 155 Super 8mmm. “I know you like old cameras, so I wanted you to have this one. It works great. You should shoot a film.” We laughed, knowing it would join my other cameras, gathering dust on top of my old breakdown.
The last time I saw Neil, he was quiet. “He hasn’t been feeling well,” my dad explained. “We haven’t seen him much lately.”
We talked for only a few minutes, and he was definitely subdued. It was clear he was in pain. Before he left, he reached out and touched my face. “You sure are pretty.”
Six weeks later, he was in the hospital. He didn’t want anyone to visit him, my mom told me. He didn’t want anyone to see him when he was sick. I respected his wishes, but was grateful when one of my dad’s friends, who’d known him the longest, went anyway and reported back.
There wasn’t much to report. No good news, anyway. They said their good-byes privately. Neil was allowed to go home, but still didn’t want to see anyone. Because the directive from the hospital wasn’t “Go home, you’re all better,” it was “You can go home now, and prepare for what’s next.” My parents prepared me for that when I naively showed pleasure at his return.
Not long after, Neil passed. It’s been two years this month.
I wanted to write about Neil for a lot of reasons. To try to explain how a young woman and an old Swede became friends. To tell you that no matter the decades that separate us, there are interesting people out there with fascinating stories. Most of all, I wanted to tell you about him because I wanted you to know him, too. Neil. My friend.
Sometimes, I miss him.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Driving to Portland from Waldport is a significant investment in time. It's about three hours from end to end and that's assuming that a. there isn't a wreck on I-5 that shuts the whole thing down for an hour or two and b. there isn't a miserable, ungodly backup at the 205 or that c. you don't stop to get a diet coke, fill up your truck or visit your sister in Corvallis. Even if you don't dawdle at my sister's house saying things like "Woah! Those cookies sure smell good!" it's still going to be several hours' worth of driving.
So when I get pulled over for speeding while driving over the pass, I have to groan inwardly and mumble a few choice swear words. Because no matter what the outcome, my drive has now become three hours and 30 minutes. And now there probably will be a wreck on I-5. And I just missed the window when the 205 is still passable. Worst of all, my sister and her family have already pissed off to church and there won't be any fresh-baked goods anywhere.
The last time I got pulled over, it was in one of the three usual speedtraps on Highway 20. They are: 1. About 6 miles west of Philomath, just past where the passing lane ends at the bottom of the hill and 2. About a mile west of the Ellmaker rest area and 3. One or two miles in, heading east from Newport.
Now, let me just say, I mean no disrespect here. If you drive these roads more than a few times a year, you'll notice the speedtraps yourselves, without me clueing you in. And I am not anti-police, either. But like all of you, I get frustrated when I get bluelighted, and sometimes, I just have to have a little fun with the young bucks who pull me over. To wit:
The last time I was pulled over was just outside of Newport, at speedtrap #3 listed here. The officer, who looked to be about 22, told me that he while he could give me a citation, instead, he'd give me a long, boring lecture about racing around switchbacks (one of my all-time favorite pastimes) and oversized deer and basically the whole history of the pass.
Because, he went on to explain, I just want to make sure you're safe.
That's why I'm not going to give you the citation.
Uh-huh, I said. Well.
It's for your own good.
Yeah...I think I'll take the ticket.
I'll take the ticket.
You will not take the ticket. You'll listen to the lecture.
I thought you were giving me a choice.
No. I'm not giving you a choice. Now, just listen.
And I did.
Cheryl: Did they start giving tickets to women? When did that happen?
Monday, October 29, 2012
In order to do laundry, I have to walk outside and around the building to get into the basement. This presents a variety of different hazards, including a. not wanting to risk getting soaked, so never doing laundry when it rains and b. a testy sensor light that never seems to turn on when I need it to, then blinds me with a glaring light after I don't need it anymore and c. unforeseen events that could only occur when you have to trek any distance carrying more than your body weight (I have a tendency to let the laundry go for about six weeks at a time). To wit:
One day, I am scrambling up the steps carrying my clean laundry when I glance over into the neighbor's yard and happen to spy a pair of my underpants. There are several questions that you'd probably like to ask and I'll try to get to them in order of importance:
1. How did they get there? I'm assuming I dropped them on my previous trip to do laundry. It could have even happened the time before. But that's really the only explanation I can come up with.
2. How did I know they were my underpants? Well, they're these little lacy...never mind. They were mine, OK?
3. Why did the neighbors just leave them there, probably for several weeks? Your guess is as good as mine, but I never see them in their backyard and also, I think where my underpants landed was out of their line of sight from the inside of their home.
4. How did I get them back? This presented the biggest problem. Although it was apparently quite easy to drop them into my neighbor's yard, retrieving my underwear proved to be a bit of a challenge. Because I dropped them over a rail from the top of the steps, they were quite a distance away from anything I could grab by reaching over or under the railing.
This also presented a second problem. Just how badly did I want my underpants back? I mean, I have a lot of underwear. It's not like losing a pair is going to force me to stay home from school. Which presented an unusual conundrum, namely:
Is it in poor taste to drop a pair of underpants in your neighbor's yard, and then just leave them there?
I thought hard about that one, readers. Because although it seems rude, and probably not what you'd want to find in your yard, I worried so much about how I was going to get my underpants back that I quite honestly considered just leaving them where they were. I even took a vote, and had my friends weigh in. Although some friends were firmly on the side of "eh, just leave 'em there," several people piped up and told me I should plan a recon, to recover my underwear in the dead of night.
So that's what I did. Just past the stroke of midnight, a bit before my bedtime, I cautiously opened the back door. Easing the door closed, I padded softly down the stairs, never taking my eyes off my neighbors' windows. God, what if they wake up? What if they find me creeping around their yard in the middle of the night in my old plaid wool bathrobe and even worse, what if they happen to catch me right at the moment I pick up my underpants?
I worried and worried and stared at the yard, casing it as if I was a jewelry thief planning a Tiffany's heist. Finally, I took a deep breath and without breaking stride, ran around to the back alley and crept into their yard. Slowly...slowly...slowly...I can almost grab them. Oh! I didn't quite realize they were under that structure...It's going to take a bit of maneuvering...I got them! Whew. I straightened up, twirling the little scrap around my finger. Nothin' to it, I thought with no small amount of relief. Why, I could probably break into any store anywhere. In fact, I could...
Peering up, I saw the neighbor's little dog looking back at me. Making that little noise that for many dogs, precedes a loud barkfest.
And then I ran.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
My writing partner and I finished up our book in August. Maybe one fine day you’ll read it. I hope so.
I won’t tell you what it’s about just yet. I could tell you it’s racy. Filled with deception. Sexy. And all of those things are true. But it wasn’t that- it wasn’t that exactly that made me want to write the book. It was something else. Something that’s intrigued me for a long time, and something that might appeal to you, too.
You might even recognize yourself in the context of this story.
Duality. The idea that all of us, somehow, someway, have two sides to ourselves.
We have the upstanding, dinner-on-the-table side, the side that the world sees, the side that our families see and the side of us that most people would use to describe us. “He’s a great dad.” “She’s a wonderful friend.”
But for some people, this side of their personalities just isn’t enough. They feel something.
A darker side.
Some people (maybe me) call it the Pull.
If you feel the pull, there isn’t much that I can write here that you don’t already know. But if you don’t what I mean, I’ll try to explain. It’s the idea that all of us have a straight side, an upstanding side, and another side that’s just…different. Not so upstanding. It’s that feeling you get when you want to do something you know you shouldn’t be doing.
And then you have to decide what to do.
One of my psychic friends told me when she gets a message from the other side, it’s lit up like a neon sign across the person of interest. The pull works much the same way, but for me, the sign almost always spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. If you see the sign, and you don’t want to risk everything for the sake of the pull, then you’d do best to slow down.
Back away quickly.
Turn right around and go back the way you came.
You find something you need there. If you can’t deny the pull, maybe you’re not supposed to deny it. And many people don’t deny themselves.
Some people don’t deny themselves anything.
And isn’t strange, how the twins find each other? When you think of all the people in the world, and all the things we might otherwise be doing, it’s kind of amazing that you’d find your twin somewhere where you’d least expect it.
Although maybe it’s not so strange. If we do all have that duality.
And the people who can lose the most are the ones who haven’t fully realized their own duality. Who haven’t realized if they go down this path, they might lose everything.
I think it’s innate, this twinning. Some people were born with the pull. Others lead happy, sunny lives without ever once feeling a darker need. Or maybe they’re just fooling themselves. Denying that this thing exists inside of them, even as they coach little league, set the table or give a speech at a fundraiser. They feel the pull but they refuse to let it get in their way.
That’s probably the best thing you can do for the sake of your livelihood, your family, for all of the things that matter to you the most. Ignore the pull.
If you can.
Posted by Lisa at 10:04 AM
Saturday, October 20, 2012
When I first decided to move back to Portland, I had nothing but resolve. There was no queasiness about leaving, no inhibitions about what waited for me on the other side of the door, just happiness, light, and a great excitement tumbling through me: I was going home.
Growing up in Eugene would be hard to define to anyone, most of all to someone who’s never lived in a small town. Not just any small town, mind you. A small town replete with a nuclear-free zone, attorneys who might be mistook for hippies, public marketplaces, community gardens, and a town full of adults who spoke to a 14-year old girl like she was an adult. And around us all was the green, green, green of that fair town. A small town, a University town, filled to bursting through the school months with lively, bustling young students. From football to basketball, the town moves and breathes with the school.
Moving away from all of that- that was the hard part. Getting plunked down in the middle of high school in a small town in the Midwest alternately infuriated me and puzzled me, leaving me saddened and confused. I didn’t understand the way the students in my town breathed or moved. I didn’t get their inside jokes, and I wasn’t included in their long-ago formed cliques. I often eschewed early morning or late afternoon classes in favor of driving around with my friends. (“Were you ever there?” my mom recently asked me. “As little as possible,” I replied.)
Because for the most part, the other students laughed at my designer jeans (“Guess?” Guess who?”), didn’t understand my sarcastic jokes and much of the time, I felt like an alien from a strange planet.
It was hard.
But over the years, I found my niche. With the exception of a few close friends, I hated high school, but I loved college, and my work after graduation intrigued me. I made friends, business contacts, moved an hour south and got to know the large city like the back of my hand. At some point, without even realizing it, I began to love my life.
Every so often I would remember that green city. That tiny microcosm of people, moving and breathing without me. I missed them.
I used to cry a lot. Without much reason and without much to-do, I’d find myself moved to tears by a cheerless story on the news, a tender moment in a movie, or in deep conversation with the friends of my heart. I tried to explain myself after one sobbing session to one heart friend, saying, I have no idea why I’m crying, really. I guess I’m just too sensitive. My emotions rest right on my skin you know, I said, laughing it off.
“You’re unhappy because you’re not where you’re supposed to be,” she told me sadly.
And she was right. I missed Oregon. I missed my family, long since relegated to annual visits. I missed seeing the little faces, now grown, shining up at me from the dinner table. I missed long walks on a deserted beach, wandering through art and crafts-filled stalls on a rainy Saturday, and fountains that gushed water every day of the year.
In the end, the decision to move back was easy. I set a deadline for myself, to become self-employed and to move back, this time to Portland, within three years. And in the 12th month of that third year, I packed up the last of my belongings and headed west.
Sometimes, I miss my friends. There aren’t many left in that small town in the Midwest- so many of the friends of my heart flew the coop as soon as they had the chance. Some never did leave. I think about them, moving and breathing without me, and I wish them well. I hope to see them again, one fine day.
In the four years since I returned to Oregon, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. There isn’t, I don’t think, ever a time where I’ll look around me and say “Yes, this is right. Yes, this is where I am meant to be and what I am meant to be doing.”
It isn’t always that easy.
But I don’t cry at the drop of a hat anymore. I think…I think I found myself again, here amongst the green, green trees and the gentle rain. The other day, someone even called out to me in a way I haven’t heard in a long, long time: “Hello, sunshine!” And it’s true: Despite the looming, gloomy rain of the winter season in the Pacific Northwest, I’m sunny again. My laugh bubbles over at every opportunity and I’ve even found myself laughing uncontrollably as of late. It’s a sign, I think. A sign that I made the right move.
It feels good.
It feels right.
I’ve written a lot about taking leaps. About being true to myself and following my muse. Taking steps to improve myself and my relationships. And I am still learning. I won’t try to fool myself about that. But one thing I have learned and I know to be true: When you are where you’re supposed to be, you’ll be happy.
It’s as simple as that.