Monday, October 31, 2005


My mother smelled of Tigress. It was a Faberge perfume (and maybe still is), coming in orange and brown striped bottles. The tops of the perfume bottles were plush. The fragrance was deep, sultry, a little chemical, and mingled with the smell of Lucky Strike cigarettes and sometimes martinis. A woman, said my mother seriously to my three year old self, should choose a fragrance and wear it forever. Then, whenever a man smelled the same fragrance, he would remember her, no matter how many years had passed.
My mother was born the same day and same year as Marilyn Monroe. She was stunned when Marilyn died. She cultivated a blonde, lush air, and even on her deathbed paused to flirt. Well, perhaps not really at the very end, when she was unconscious and hooked to machines, and far from her perfumes.
Contrary to her advice she switched perfumes later. She wore Opium, and Chantilly, and Shalimar. After she died my brothers gave me her perfumes.
There is nothing, nothing so evocative as scent. Although I might dress in thrift store and bag lady chic, to the despair of my daughter, I am fond of fragrances. These days I am more prone to mix essential oils--oil of lemon, or neroli, a dab of lavender.
My grandmother wore lavender. Yardley English Lavender. I loved the soap she put on her white, pedestal sink. Brown, exotic, smelling of clean fields.
My aunt passed on a little bottle of Jungle Gardenia. Candy sweet, exotic. I was 10. It was wonderful. I will still, on occassion, wear gardenia. It makes me feel safe and sultry at the same time.
My father bought perfume--or cologne anyway--for his growing teen daughter (and how we fought in those days). Heaven Sent. I hated the fragrance, but kept it. He gave it to me saying, with a sentimentality I didn't recognize or appreciate, that he was so reminded of me, his only daughter, by this scent.
My grandmother bought me a fragrance made by the folks who made 4711, a splash I loved in my college days and carried with me for its clean fragrance--it was called, I think, Directoire Floreal. A white fragrance, and sweet. I never replaced it--or missed it.
I went on to Emeraude (too powdery, I gave it to the owner of a Berlin hotel) and Bellogia (which I still like but can't find; it smells like carnations on a terrace in Italy).
Last week a friend sent me a tiny vial of scented oils called Belle Epoque. She'd gotten it from a fascinating place that creates rather mystic sounding scents, very appropriate for Halloween--Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab should take you there, if I've entered the link correctly. It was a scent she didn't like, but which somehow reminded her of the bookstore. Given that sometimes the bookstore smells of cat pee, it was reassuring to note the little vial of oil does not. On my skin it smells of amber and sandalwood and perhaps green things and flowers--I should look it up and see exactly what it is made of. Called Belle Epoque. It has a dry complexity, and I do like it. Like days dreaming in a slightly dusty library where, perhaps, your own true love might come and sit in the chair and pat the sleeping pitbull.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Birthdays and Saturn Returns

Woodsmoke is curling through the liquidamber trees and the birch trees, wafting over the fir trees with their Christmas scent. The maples are yellow across the way, and the sky dark already. There's a certain melancholy to this time of year for me. Maybe just the bracing for the descent into the darkness of winter, and the long rains, and the cold.

It's the birthday of my oldest son, whose father died now nearly two years ago. He came by, my tall first born, and I gave him presents all wrapped in shiny blue and silver, with curling red and golden ribbons. I always give him pretty things, useless things. Things he probably inwardly sighs over, as I used to sigh over my mother's tenderly chosen and totally wrong gifts. But we chatted, his house mate called, the day wore into darkness.

I was in labor five days with that child--well, perhaps two days hard, hard labor. It was a slow adjustment of my soul to motherhood. The planned homebirth ended in the tiny local hospital, where the doc on call refused to deal with me and I lied valiantly about just how long I'd been laboring. He was born without problems, at 8:33 in the evening. I'd refused all the drugs offered by the kind elderly doctor who'd come in to help out. I still recall vividly meeting my son's blue eyes, and thinking "oh dear; he knows more than I do".

It's been a long journey, but mostly a good one. With our very different spirits we taught one another a lot.

He was born in my first Saturn return, for those who follow such things, and is coming towards his own passage as I come to my second Saturn return (exact next summer). I find myself kind of bracing for the next phase in my own life. That first return did bring me my much loved child, and the earthquake of my life. It brought me a couple ended love affairs, the death of a dear friend, new directions. It brought me to this remote area, where I decided to stay. Tears and separations and new beginnings. I did not think I'd survive it.

What we survive ourselves we long to spare our children. I wonder about this young man's passage, and know he will weather it with grace and strength.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Up at 5 AM

Yes, there are days when the world spins contrary to my preferences, at least in petty ways. Up at 5AM (and I am mostly a night person; morning is a whole new experience). Meeting at my clinic (I'm a board member). Problems with doctor. Delicate listening, balancing, wondering. Will he quit? Should he quit? Do we hope he quits? Time will tell.
It's a community health center and will be 30 this January. Started from the grassroots when a few folks got together and talked about things like "hey, we should have health care". It's a very rural, impoverished region. The center has gone through lots of ups and downs and dramas. And doctors. Though I think it would surely be wonderful for a doctor to settle here and practice old time medicine and meet his or her patients in the market and care for a whole community, cradle to grave...there just don't seem to be that many docs who want that. We had a wonderful guy here for a number of years; it helped, of course, that he was stunningly handsome and sensitive and caring and everyone fell in love with him--he left years ago and now does big city ER work. Lots of money, he tells me, since we are friends still, and I like to keep track of his growing number of children.
Oh, please, universe, send us our doctor--or doctors--we have room for 2 or three really, at this glorious little clinic where we have dentists (two of them) and an acupuncturist and psychologists Where the two main towns are, together, around--oh, maybe 4,000 people. Where everyone does know your name, and probably what you're gonna have for dinner, and what your child was or is up to. Where dogs get to wander into shops (my Buddy now and then goes on his own to the local feedstore and chooses a treat and comes back to the bookstore) and where we all try to care...
Lack of sleep makes me emotional. I go out to the parking lot garden and trim back the bitter scented chrysanthemums: deep red, russet, a pink that deepens to lilac. I plant a little mini rose, yellow as buttercups. I scatter poppy seed. Soon I will be planting sweetpeas, and putting in more bulbs (last year I put in hundreds all around the town streets and in nooks and crannies).
The pomegranates are turning bright red, hung amongst the clinging golden leaves. Lovely autumn. The world still spins on.

Monday, October 24, 2005

how we tell our stories

I notice two (of the three!) versions of my last post are here (and I can't seem to remove the duplicate). Such are the problems of the cyber newbie (when downloading or uploading or whatever, the little dial that all the bloggers must be aware of kept reading "0%". Forever. ) And when I checked only part of the post had made it to the page. And so I began again...a slightly different version. I've tried to delete the duplicate, but it stays, and stays.
And perhaps is an object lesson in how we tell our stories: different, slightly, every time.

So, what is truth? As a little girl I'd gather my playmates about me and tell "true stories", based on my exotic adventures in Japan. It was true, I lived in Japan for years (military family). But the stories I told were not always true--or at least not fact, not pure fact. But they were good stories.

I was a religious child, and my sin of falsehood bothered me a great deal. I didn't seem able to stop from telling those stories. I could not stop the embroidery, the suspense, the deft changing of mood, the playing to my audience. I'd repent, and pray.

Finally I decided--well, if God wanted me not to tell stories, surely he wouldn't have given me such an imagination, or such a silver tongue. Would he?

Well, sin or not, I continued. Because I think in telling stories--ours, others--we find out what matters. We shape a world.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

unlocked doors & hurricane dogs

I haven't locked my cabin door for decades, except by sometimes tying a bit of rope from the doorknob to a nail outside, in hopes of keeping the raccoons from coming in (it doesn't work; raccoons are clever and really love cat and dog crunchies). In town I do lock the bookstore door when we are closed, except when I take my pitbull for a gallop. Then, figuring I will be back so quickly, and wanting to come in with the bouncing dog without fumbling for my keys, I leave the door unlocked.
This leads, sometimes, to surprises. Yesterday we came back and found a bewildered Black Owl standing in the main room, scratching his head. Black Owl is a local guy, grew up here, came from one of the local tribes (the ones the feds still don't quite believe are still existing, but they are organizing now, and telling their stories). Black Owl is probably in his 60's now. He held a big folder and gently rummaged through it. "I have something for you" he said. "You need to put it in your window". It was a photocopy, in color, of one of his paintings. "It is my father" he said. "The name of the painting is Blessings of the Mother".
A word or two about my windows. On one side of the store, near my partner's desk, we put up the ephemeral posters and flyers: a dance, a benefit, a meeting, a workshop, a protest. The window is covered with bits of clear tape from past posters. I am always meaning to scrape them off and start again, but I don't.
The other window, the one near my desk, has a constantly revised count of the casualities, civilian and military, in Iraq, and a changing series of photos printed from online news services. Today a little girl looks up from beside her father in Tal Afar; another child cries out because her uncle was killed in Baghdad; a grieving mother clutches a folded flag somewhere in a graveside service in the states; a man looks over a series of coffins; a mother in Lousiana holds her baby to her chest; a mother in Palestine holds her baby; a bunch of rescued dogs from New Orleans look frisky; a medical worker holds a kitten; a Guantamamo orange suit is glimpsed behind wire; some children in Afghanistan eat soup.
The photos started some years ago as posters for street demos. I was struck by the human gestures of grief and hope, universal. The pictures said more than I could. They said: look, we are human, we care, we suffer.
I don't recall when I started putting them in my window. I do recall some of the responses: the man who spat at the photo of a Palestinian woman and said I am a supporter of terrorists; the people who stood on the street and burst into tears.
It's that window that now holds Black Owl's picture. It does belong there. In it a seated man, hair in braids, feather at top of head, makes the center of a fan of stylized feathers. There are baskets and plants and symbols; the whole like a sort of mandala or blessing and energy.
And after I thanked him, and he left, the backpacker in search of sci fi came in, with his lively little dog named Gidget. He'd been sleeping under one of the bridges, having come here from the outskirts of Louisiana, with the rescued pup. Her mother and father drown; he couldn't get them out of the trailer in time. But Gidget made it. She wagged her tail and then went into a perfect sit/stay.
How had her companion decided to come here?
By throwing a dart at a big map. It landed here, somewhere between the two little towns. And so here he came.
Life pushes through the doors and windows. Every day.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

puzzle pieces

I remember putting together bits of sky and bits of grass, corners of buildings and lovely faces, landscapes and puppies, mountains and street scenes, in my grandmother's house where she kept many a jigsaw puzzle on a table. There were techniques to this--find the corners, find the edges, put the sky in one pile and the sea in another; could that be a horse?
Sometimes it seems that much of my life has been and continues to be one of putting bits together. Families come looking for lost sons, lost daughters. People come asking "do you know so and so--he likes books, he lives out a dirt road". The family looking for Eric and his dog Lobo didn't have much hope of seeing him. His mother feared he'd taken his beat up old car off the road. He wasn't always--sane, she said. I knew the dog better than the man, having enjoyed watching Lobo pull Eric down the mainstreet on a skateboard. Lobo is part sled dog, and beautiful, and enjoys a good romp. But I hadn't seen the two for weeks.
We put up the posters. When I stood in my Friday vigil, Kate came by and said "I know that guy you have up in the window". I told her to go use our phone and call the family.
She did, but left no contact point for them.
Small towns are good, however, and when I ran into the family next and was brainstorming where they could check--perhaps the monastery, since Eric was of a spiritual bent--Kate strolled by.
Contact was made.
I wish it were always as easy, and the endings always happy. Eric brought me a book--Dog is my copilot--as a sort of sideways thanks. He seemed happy to have spent time with his sister from Colorado, and his mom from New Mexico, and his brother all the way from Canada.
Send postcards more often, I told him.
Yeah, that's what my sister says too.
Little puzzle pieces.