creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

Under Construction

creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

The end of my street is blocked by orange construction cones and signs declaring that the road is closed. Workers closed the road not long after I moved in. They were already deep into a years-long project extending light rail lines further into the east side of the river. If I thought I would be staying in this neighborhood until the completion of the project, I’d be thrilled. A light rail station within walking distance of me? Excellent news. Since I hope to be long gone by the time the work is done in 2015, however, all I notice are the orange cones.

The road, they tell me, is under construction, and the progress report sign at the intersection tells me the project completion date. Being introspective lately leads me to think that my life feels very much under construction right now, though I have no project completion date. I don’t even have an estimate that I’ll overshoot by a number of weeks or months and over which local politicians will wring their hands. No, all I have are orange cones.

I know that despite my series of rough years recently that I am lucky. I don’t have enough work, but the work I have is work I like, and that allows me to live in a way I love. I don’t love my current living situation, but I know it’s temporary and I genuinely adore the neighborhood in the meantime. I’m dealing with the aftermath of leaving a 10-year marriage, but I am thankful that I had the wherewithal to leave and the support of family and friends when I did.

Despite the orange cones circling my personal work zone right now, I am more optimistic than I have been in longer than I can remember. No, it’s not despite the cones – it’s because of them. Those construction cones represent progress. They indicate movement. They tell me that work has started. There may be no project completion date I can put on a calendar, but it is satisfying to see the orange cones surrounding jagged holes in the pavement, hard-hatted workers hip-deep in the ground, shovels in hand.

Cutting through the surface to reconfigure what lies underneath can hurt, but letting something sour fester there is far worse.

I am doing my best to let go of the guilt, the sadness, the worry, the part of me that was willing to quietly accept unhappiness. There is nothing that offers hope so much as potential, so I am choosing to see the orange cones as harbingers of positivity. What’s under these top layers, what the workers will find when they dig a little deeper, and what they’ll build next – I don’t really know. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be on the sidelines anymore, watching from behind the safety ropes. I’m wading in, hard-hatted and shovel in hand.

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

The Answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

On my 42nd birthday, an announcement.

Some of you already know this, although I’ve kept it relatively quiet in a more public sense. I moved out of my house early last June, and Chris and I are in the midst of wrapping up all the paperwork involved in our divorce. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave – perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but I don’t regret it. I purposely kept the news out of public spaces until the mediation was done, but I did want to let people know what had happened, as there are many of you who still don’t know. I apologize for the format of this, if this is how you’re finding out, and I hope you understand.

For at least the forseeable future I am in a bit of limbo. I am in an apartment I don’t like (though in a location I love in SE Portland), and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living six months or a year from now. I’ve never been good with changes (I have sprouted more gray hairs in the past eight months than I can count), and this is by no means easy, though I’m trying to remind myself that it’s temporary. I have posted signs in my apartment reading, “This, too, shall pass” – and I’m reminded of a favorite André Gide quote:

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

There are plenty of clichés about change, but when you’re in the midst of upheaval they all sound so trite as to undermine what it feels like you’re actually going through. Since losing my job in 2012, I feel a bit like every time I was getting close to being on my feet again, something else would pull the rug out from underneath me. In this case, I pulled the rug out myself. So, I am at sea, yes. And somewhere out there lies my next port. I can’t see it yet. But I know it’s there.

So, bring it on, 42. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m ready.

“Almost” is Not Acceptable


Despite the fact that I have the date tattooed on my left forearm, the one-year anniversary of the Newtown elementary school shooting snuck up on me. I didn’t realize it was only a few days away until I decided to listen to an episode of “On the Media” during one of my morning walks. The discussion centered on the recent release of the 911 tapes from that day (Connecticut state law requires 911 tapes to be released), and the decisions by some media outlets to air the recordings while others said they would not.

I know there’s something in American culture that craves that voyeuristic thrill of listening in on someone else’s tragedy, and yet my opinion on whether the tapes should be broadcast or not wasn’t what set my teeth on edge as I listened to the debate. What did me in was one tiny word in a quote by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. As he was making the case for CNN airing the recordings, he said:

This is a major event in American history. The Congress almost voted gun control because of this. I think that means it’s something that the public needs to know about.

If a “major event in American history” – the intentional murder of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six of the adults tasked with educating them – merits only an “almost” on gun control legislation, then what in the name of all that is good in the world is it going to take to remove the word “almost” from that sentence?

One year later, more than 24 school shootings later, over 11,400 people killed by guns later…

“Almost” is letting cowardly legislators off the hook.

“Almost” is pretending we care enough to do something.

“Almost” is an affront to the people whose children and loved ones died at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“Almost” is not acceptable.

Dental Work

antique dental tools - 1868 illustration

antique dental tools – 1868 illustration

I have had a rocky relationship with dentists my entire life. I remember one appointment when I was a kid – I couldn’t have been more than five or six – when the number of tiny cavities found during one visit numbered in the teens. My teeth have extremely soft enamel, which has led to many fillings over the years, and some of the dentists I’ve seen have seemed more like sadists than doctors. So there were several years in my twenties when I just didn’t bother going to the dentist at all.

These days, although I have a great dentist and what I’m fairly certain is the world’s gentlest dental hygienist, and reminders about upcoming dental appointments no longer fill me with fear, those check-ups have come to symbolize something more melancholy.

In 2012, when I went in for my appointment it was after a three-year hiatus. The break hadn’t been intentional. I remember the conversation I had had during my visit in 2009, when setting a date on the calendar for a year out seemed ludicrous. It seemed then like just one more thing I’d have to cancel or reschedule, so I decided that not making the appointment was the smarter option.

See, by 2010, I reasoned, I would no longer be living in Oregon. I would be living in Italy.

Of course, by 2010 I was not living in Italy. Nor had I moved by 2011, or 2012. And not only did making that appointment last year come with a heavy sigh of recognition that I was not where I wanted to be, setting another for a year later sent me down a spiral I still remember a year later.

It takes nothing at all for me to go from marking a date on the calendar 365 in the future to thinking I’ve let yet another year go by when I haven’t gotten back in touch with the nice girl from the relocation office in Milan who helped me with all that confusing paperwork, because I’m embarrassed that I’ve made no progress toward actually moving, and in fact I’ve actually taken more than a few steps backward on that front. I try not to think of the money I spent on her services – money my father left me when he died – because then my stomach turns over a little more and sends a lump into my throat that I have to fight back down.

My life was supposed to be different by then, according to my “no, I don’t think I’ll make my next appointment” self years ago. The me who says yes to making next year’s appointment these days is – what is she, a pessimist or a realist? Beaten down by years of continuing to put off a dream that’s prepetually “five or so” years away, perhaps I’m finally resigned to the fact that I’m not moving to Italy – or maybe I’m just tired of sounding like I was trying to talk myself into it every time I told someone of my goal.

As she was finishing tending to my teeth last year, my hygienist pulled an angled mirror from my mouth and asked, “So, should we just send you a reminder in a year? Or should we not bother?” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t avoiding them. But explaining my reasons for such a long time between visits was too complicated, too painful, and – most important – not her problem.

My 2013 appointment came up on my calendar last week, and with it a fresh round of sadness. Yes, there went another year of no progress toward Italy. And yes, I made an appointment for 2014 before I left the dentist’s office. But the sadness is more complex now, as I’ve rediscovered making music – something that makes me happier than I’ve felt in years, is very much rooted to where I am now, and that I can’t quite fathom giving up. Even for Italy.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s just one more piece of the upheaval that seems to be par for the course the last year or so. Maybe I’ve simply changed my mind. I don’t know. At the moment, what I know is that I have a dental appointment in April of next year, and that makes me less unhappy this year than it did last year. And I guess that’s something.