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Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me

Snoqualmie Pass

In the snow, it is the same forward as it is back.

In the late winter at the Snoqualmie Pass, I walked into the snowdrifts under the fir trees. A truck on the freeway sounded its horn, and under that the rush of tires on the frozen concrete whirred and groaned. The crust of snow shellacked with a rain mostly held. When my boot broke the surface, my boot sole plunged into powder, filling my sock with shards of ice and a spray of snow. The snow melted and soaked my socks. The ice shards melted slowly as I pulled my boot back up to the crusted surface and kept moving across the ice.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I had wanted to go out into the snow and had this image of walking until I came to a creek that was free from ice out in the middle of the current. The flowing water would be black. And around it the white snow and blue icicles hanging from the trees would make it feel as though I had come to a place, somewhere out in the forest, but as I slowly made my way across the ice crush between the trees, the entire forest began to look the same. There was the sound of the freeway behind me, receding, until I could only hear the occasional flump of a tree releasing its snow load or I could hear the whistle of a marmot or the chatter of birds eating whatever they could find. A camp robber had been following me the half mile or mile I traveled into the forest.

A misty fog or clouds depending on how you wanted to look at it had descended to the tree tops and obscured the cliffs and mountain tops that would provide some sense of where I was. I could see how easily I could get lost. I kept breaking through the ice and left a trail back to where I came, otherwise, forward and back were the same sequence of heaps of snow and ice, trees with ice clinging to the bark. To head, back was the same as moving forward. Eventually, I arrived at a creek with free-flowing water in the channel. The water was black in the white landscape. I turned to head back but didn’t know where to return. To head back was the same as moving forward.

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Learning my Pronouns, Queer Rock Camp in Seattle

The band,  Joe Bitin.

The band, Joe Bitin’.

On a June Monday I dropped off my daughter at Queer Rock Camp at the YoungTown’s Cultural Arts Center at the base of Delridge in West Seattle an area that is part of the Duwamish tribal lands and the neighborhood that Richard Hugo wrote about in his first three books of poetry and his memoir about Seattle, The Real West Marginal Way. Waze, a navigation app designed to shunt you around traffic, guided me down West Marginal Way in the morning. We travelled through an alternate version of Seattle with empty streets, green belts, industrial lots, and Pigeon Hill a neighborhood of one-room houses. We drove through the knot of overpasses and bridges that pass over Harbor Island and the river and connect West Seattle with Seattle, GoergeTown, Beacon Hill,  99, and I-5. The cultural center occupied one of the old Seattle school buildings, a massive brick rectangle with a steep slope for the roof. On the way there was passed a sallow looking teenage person on Delridge in black clothes. I said, “I think she’s a vegan.” (Later I found find that the pronoun ‘she’ is an assumption.)

We were on time which meant that we were early. A few volunteers hurried down the hallway carrying handful of guitars. A volunteer greeted us with name tags, and this was the first sign that this wasn’t going to be just about rock and roll, this rock camp, and the guy (and as I might learn later if I needed to distinguish someone by their presentation, the male presenting individual said, ” please fill out your name tag with the name you would like us to call you and your pronouns.” Continue Reading →

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John Urschel Says Have Cheap Obsessions


Denis Johnson at Trapdoor 62: The Dream Interpretation Panel (October 20, 2005)

Denis Johnson who I once had the pleasure of doing a reading, performance (Trapdoor 62) in Seattle had one main piece of writing advice that was I think key and yet wasn’t really about writing at all. He said live on as little money as possible. By little, he meant as close to zero as possible.

Here is an NFL lineman (Baltimore Ravens) and part-time mathematician John Urschel saying the something similar (even though he has a lucrative contract): “I drive a used hatchback Nissan Versa and live on less than $25k a year. It’s not because I’m frugal or trying to save for some big purchase, it’s because the things I love the most in this world (reading math, doing research, playing chess) are very, very inexpensive.”

If the MFA thing is a bit of a racket, the industry around aspiring the college football and the NFL completely dwarfs it. Denis Johnson is a writerly freak. John Urschel is even more of a freak. He is a widely published mathematician who also says, “I play because I love the game. I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you.” Continue Reading →

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Elegy for the Incandescent Light Bulb

At the hardware store recently I bought a package of incandescent light bulbs, you know the roundish kind that are lightbulb shape. Even though they have been phased out of production since last fall, I can still find them.

If you were to draw the icon an idea or a flash of inspiration and you were my age, the generation before, I don’t know how long ago, but for decades, you would draw a light bulb. But the light bulb has become suddenly a fusty piece of past technology like the wall phone, the cathode tube screen, and the Victrola. I find myself surprisingly alarmed at the passage of the incandescent light bulb for the curl of a cool neon tube. I finally bought my first package of neon lights at the grocery store because the incandescent light bulbs were more expensive. When I went to Ace Hardware a while back the incandescent light bulbs were still less expensive and the clerk kind of made fun of my lot of light bulbs. “Pretty soon you won’t be able to buy these anywhere.” I did notice they were tucked into the back of the aisle. It didn’t even occur to me purchase the fluorescent lights bulbs. Continue Reading →

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Metal Whistle

The whistle surface is the texture of a paraffin block. The aluminum is a single cast piece that lacks welds or bolts. I don’t know how I know that it is aluminum. It has the heft of plastic. I know that if I took a piece of steel I could cut the whistle. I imagine the surface peeling into two halves. I remember mangling a can of TAB as a child. I could saw a TAB can into pieces with a stray ignition key. Tics and abrasions cover the surface of the whistle. It’s been rolling around in the box filled with old keys, buttons, quarters, and pennies. My grandfather carried change in his pockets and was ready to use them to buy things. In the seventies, he could buy actual food with change. I empty my pockets of change when I acquire coins. I am given coins very rarely now. I pay for just about everything — a soda at the convenience store, a scooter, a car, with numbers and secret keys. I might walk around for weeks without folding money. When I pay with a bill, the cashier dampens his finger in a sponge moistened with antibacterial fluid, and I receive a handful of change that I don’t want to put in my pocket where it might scratch the surface of my phone. The change ends up in a box on my desk; eventually, I convert it to a slip of paper at a machine at the grocery store. This is a step to the dissolution of the change into digital numbers, into air. But, the aluminum whistle carries the marks and scars of the zinc and nickel used to make quarters and pennies. I am still intimate enough with manufactured goods to not only know somehow the whistle is made out of aluminum. I am intimate with aluminum. I know how to mangle and reshape aluminum. I place the whistle next to my ipod. The ipod is powered off. It is a smooth slip of glass. The metal whistle has a single function. I know the taste of the pucker where I place the metal shaft and blow. At first, it doesn’t make a sound and then I adjust the air and the air makes a tone. The entire shape of the whistle is designed to deliver this single toot. The ipod can also produce a whistle. The ipod is also a window into the virtual. There is a button that opens the window. The device wants a swipe of my fingers across the face to confirm my entry, and then I have a field of options. I have so many options I have to rummage around for the virtual whistle. With my metal whistle I can communicate to someone with in earshot. I can make a piercing sound. I could maybe whistle out a Morris code signal or maybe there is some ancient communication scheme of whistle sounds. And if the person within ear shot has a whistle they cloud communicate to me as well. They could whistle a response. I open Facebook on my ipod. I can read status updates fed to FaceBook from people using phones, tablets, computers, whatever. In the realm of the material, a whistle is more substantial than an ipod in terms of material function. The whistle warms my breath into a sound. The ipod touch requires power. While it allows me access to the unseen, the digital tone of the whistle is only a simulation of the actual, material sound of a whistle. But it is handy. I don’t have to carry an actual whistle to whistle. I wonder if I will lose the memory of a pocket full of change, or mangling an old TAB can with a stray ignition key?

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Orphan Cloud

While walking near the ocean, I noticed this orphan cloud. Typically I realized clouds live in very close quarters to one another. This one was all alone. Poor cloud.

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While I walk at night, cars pass me. Typically I am in the darkness while walking and my eyes adjust to the ambient light of distant street lights and the moon half visible through a scrim of faint clouds. But then a car arrives. It is loud and throws light. I am nearly blinded even though I can make out the pale faces of passengers staring at me. I can see they can’t really make out what I am — they glance at me with unfocused eyes and then they are gone.

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Writing on the World

I passed two surveyors making marks and measurements near Puget Sound. They marked their annotations directly on the asphalt, dirt, gravel, and grass. One note that I couldn’t read — the surveyors don’t’ have the best handwriting when writing on the world — passed over the walkway and continued right onto the lawn. I couldn’t really figure out trying to read what they wrote what is different about their work and the work of graffiti artists.

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The Effect of Sea Water and Rain Water on Plant Life

My daughter in conducting an experiment. Will seawater, rainwater, soda water, or tap water allow a plant to thrive or will it kill the plant? She herself thrives on the steady application of root beer.

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Crows use Tools, too

In Aesop’s Fables a crow drops pebbles in a jar to raise the level of the water so that he can drink. In the parking lot at Salt Water Sate Park, crows use the asphalt to crack the muscle shells. They left the muscles far above the lot and then drop them. When they drop them they drop after them so that when the muscle smashes into the asphalt and releases its meat the loitering gulls and competing crows don’t have time to make a snatch and fly. It is sometimes said that the defining aspect of humanity is our ability to use tools or technology. But it seems the thing that separates us from crows is only feathers.

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