Sunday, July 11

I just got done with my first writing workshop, the first since college. Not just a workshop on how to write blogs or use web sites or other fancy communications tools, but legit, no frills, down-to-earth writing.

My brain is exhausted and fried right now. I should go for a run. But I have thoughts I need to get out.

Author Molly Wizenberg taught “What Food Writing Can Do” this morning. She’s a memoir writer and co-host of my favorite podcast “Spilled Milk.” I’ve read two of her three books. She’s my age. I connect with many things she talks about on her podcast as a midwest kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, even though the podcast is actually about food (but she and her co-host just slay me with their constant pop culture references).

Even though I’ve been writing professionally since 2001, it’s always been in the form of journalism – first for a newspaper for four years; for a Native American natural resources consortium for the past 15+ years.

As a kid, I LOVED reading and writing ridiculous wild stories. I had a reading tree. My sixth grade teacher encouraged me to get my alternative version of Cinderella printed in our local weekly paper. I also wrote a play that year (“The Day in the Life of a Sixth Grader”) and directed it on the last day of school before the 5th and 6th grade classes.

But, the idea of writers, to me, was so… boring. Writing magazines that would come through Language Arts classes never inspired me. Reading about writing bored me. During all of my schooling, I loved reading and writing assignments (and I’ve been keeping a journal since 1990), but anything to HELP me with my writing just turned me off.

(I WILL SAY though, my grandmother got me started on reading James Kilpatrick’s column “On Language” which was about the extent of my engaged “reading about writing” practice. And I told myself early in life not to take edits personally because all writers need editors.)

After I got settled into my young adult life near Seattle, I started to discover other things – mountaineering, garden groups, biking, trail running, volunteering – and didn’t really dedicate time to outside-of-work writing. I made a few web sites and blogs over the years, mainly to post pictures and trip reports about the fantastic adventures I was experiencing (and you know, ’cause writers have blogs, right?)

I also thought writers were introverted quiet types, who sit for hours on end musing and writing and musing and more writing. Often in the lofts over garages, or a really super cheap rented studio that is not in a good neighborhood. Or even Hunter S. Thompson style, in an alcohol- or drug-infused rage.

For anyone who knows me in real life, I don’t sit still, not for very long anyway. I am on the go and typically going at 100 m.ph. at that. And if projects are involved, they’re typically short-term driven. Nor am I a raging alcoholic or drug addict.

So, I didn’t have “time” to write.

Until Jeremy asked me to help with a photography project in 2019. Just some captions for his photos about the maritime trades. I’d just gone through a break up that tore me up and it was a great way to throw my energy into something creative.

Those captions turned into mini essays. And, frankly, they were really good. I was pretty proud of them. They were incredibly freeing, tickling awake that long buried creative writer vibe within. They made the photographer cry. Other feedback included from someone in the boat yard (who I’ve never met): “I have never been as proud of what I do till I read what Tiffany wrote.”

That made me pause. Maybe, just maybe, if I take a page from Jeremy’s book about dedication and focus, I could work with this. How could I make this craft better? Make it my own? Could I someday produce a written body of work that only I’ve envisioned and developed, that is not directed by my paying gig or intended to support someone else?

Another sign I had in my head that qualified “Being a Writer” was that I had to have a deep desire to write the “Great American Novel.” I’ve never EVER felt that. I’ve never felt like I’ve had fiction stories inside me that need to be put out into the world. And I was never able to articulate that until I sat in on author Erica Bauermeister’s webinar last fall on her memoir about remodeling a house.

She was talking about her writing methods and noted that she’d never had fictional characters inside her that she needed to write about. She thought the non-fiction genre was her gig… until she was struggling with writing the house memoir and dipped her toe into fiction. Turns out, she DID have fiction stories in her to write and they’ve gone on to become best sellers.

I ALSO have long believed that I need to live some insanely fantastical life to create a well from which to pull my stories. Jeremy calls BS on that – you can find some fantastical stories in your own backyard. We are doing that with the Maritime Project. Hell, I’ve somewhat been doing that for 20 years with my day job, now that I think about it.

And Molly put it another way today – two different people can write about the same thing, but the difference would be in the quality of the writing. Something as simple as writing about a delicious slice of cake. An OK writer would use adjectives; a good writer would use concrete language (yay, a new term I learned today!) to create a visual, pulling the reader in with them, as if they’re sharing that cake together. And I realized recently, I’ve always enjoyed that kind of writing – short stories and essays that really dive into the details of a particular moment or thing.

That all said, still, I’ve never really thought I had a story to tell.

Until I started cooking for others on a regular basis. Namely, my partner and his kids.

I never realized that a lot of people just aren’t into food like me, my family and a good chunk of my friends. Those who may not always seek out the most local and fresh foods, and then pour energy into making a meal that lends to rolling your eyes into the back of your head as your savor that first bite. Like, you don’t embrace the first tomato out of the garden? Or just eat bowls and bowls of roasted and sautéed vegetables after hauling home overstuffed produce bags from the farmers market or your friends’ houses because they grew too much? Create a four-part YouTube video series on your father’s smoked turkey method?

I’ve really had a hard time understanding this and getting over it. What IS my relationship with food? Why DO I enjoy spending hours in the kitchen making three different meals to eat on for a week, a bit stressed from trying to use ALL the fresh food that my wallet couldn’t stop bleeding for? Why is it that my mouth waters while reading REALLY good writing about food and the stories that come with it?

Then I started to think about how food has played a role in my entire life – all 42 years of it. Not just because I need it to survive, but my dad’s gardens, my mom made-from-scratch meals, my desire to help start a farmers market, then a food co-op, supporting local farmers, that quaint moment in a little cafe in Florence, Italy eating wild boar ragout with my 5 month-old nephew asleep and cradled in my arms…

SO many things.

Scene: McMenamin’s, Bend, Oregon, May 2021. Jeremy and I are settled in for an evening of pizza and beer after a day of adventure. Our conversations often lead to discussing his creative desires, which is storytelling through photography, and our maritime trades project. But occasionally, he pushes back on me – what do YOU want to create? What do YOU like to think about? How can I support your creative desires?

I often struggle with that answer. I honestly just think I live life in the moment and what’s coming up next. But something (the beer likely?) snapped in me and the first thought came to mind: Food.

Suddenly, I’m unleashing A LIFETIME of food memories into a tiny 3″ by 5″ blank notebook that I had with me. We sketched out a possible outline of chapters. I thought about everything from how I ate my college roommates’ leftovers (just throw some salsa on it, it’ll be finnnnnneeee) to learning how to cook Brussel sprouts and parsnips from my urban farmer neighbor who introduced me to community-supported agriculture.

And since then, the idea of writing about my memories with food has stuck with me.

I realize I have a lot to do and learn – the tricks of how to write a memoir; read other memoirs (food-based and otherwise); interview family and friends who have been part of these food memories; dig out my journals in hopes that I captured some of the bigger moments that stand out; learn how write about memories when memories are fuzzy; decide if I want to include recipes; when do I want the food memories to stop?

(As a woman who has never bore children, I am amused by the idea of ending a food memoir at the moment that I am jumping off a cliff to start a food adventure with teenagers, because everyone pretty much knows how that story goes. Good luck and godspeed. All I know so far is that I have to keep popcorn and Oreos in the cabinet, which is completely against my nature.)

ANYWAY – Molly’s workshop was eye opening and enlightening and inspiring and sparking. It’s made me realize that generally, there ARE NO RULES for going about writing something. And that “Being A Writer” isn’t being huddled in a corner like a hermit. There’s a lot of research and I LOVE researching things. And interviewing people. And sharing.

So, not sure how to end this. Some of you may be, “Well, yeah, Tiffany. This all tracks. Have you looked at your Instagram account lately?”

It’s … it’s just nice to be excited about a writing project finally, after, for nearly four decades, not really feeling like a writer.

Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Scene: Open bag of Juanita’s tortilla chips next to me, hand mindlessly reaching for chip after chip after chip. No salsa.

Jeremy is out covering a sailboat race this week, so it’s just been me at the house since 6 a.m. Monday morning. He doesn’t get back until sometime Sunday.

Leading up to this week, I was looking forward eating in and eating healthy, going to bed early, getting quality sleep and having the WHOLE bed to myself. I was going to have dedicated quiet time to write for the maritime project. I was going to watch the scale go down. I had very few scheduled responsibilities outside of work. I told myself I’d clean the fridge of junk food, and dive into the delicious garden vegetables and greens from our farm share that I am overloaded with at the moment. I was going to treat the quiet time like a writing retreat. You hear of people who embrace this kind of quiet as a time for reflection and deep thinking and “getting good work done” and I was going to try and do the same. Then, reward myself at the end of the week with visits to Bremerton and Seattle to see friends I hadn’t seen in forever. I even made two quiches to eat over the course of several dinners and lunches so I didn’t have to cook too much.

Yeeaaahhh. You know where this is going. I can hear you laughing. 

By Tuesday evening, I’d devolved into that teenager whose parents left her at home for a week by herself with no rules. 

Let’s cover the responsible things that I have done while by myself:

  • I let the property management people into the house for the annual inspection. Passed with flying colors. 
  • I ate at the house for almost three days straight.
  • I did my paying job. 
  • I gave someone a ride home from the Hood Canal Bridge. 
  • I did some landlordy-things with one of my tenants.
  • I put on real pants.
  • I took out the garbage and recycling. 
  • I supported a few friends’ businesses.
  • I showered.

Now, let’s talk about devolved me: 

  • Instead of throwing out the junk food or hiding it, I ate it all. 
  • I left the house maximum once a day. I did not do the 10-minute walk to most of my destinations like I could have; Instead, I definitely drove down the hill and spent 10 minutes looking for parking.
  • Instead of writing or editing for the maritime project, I found myself on the couch, surfing the Roku, finishing up “Rutherford Falls” and watching the entire “season” (if you can call 6 episodes a season) of “We Are Lady Parts.” I also fully intend to continue watching “Emily In Paris.”
  • I have dug my hands, more than once, into the Adventure Food Bin, full of nothing but junk food for running, biking and skiing adventures ONLY, when I was absolutely not hungry.
  • I have talked outloud to myself more than once (which actually isn’t too odd for a writer).
  • I have wandered aimlessly around the already tidy house, wondering what I did with myself when I lived alone in Bremerton.
  • I have had zero desire to run, practice yoga, or do any of my physical therapy that I should be doing.
  • I have gone to bed no earlier than 11:30 every night (which is super late for me).
  • I have totally aimlessly scrolled on my phone in bed.
  • I attempted to weed whack the yard, but given I’ve only used a weed whacker, like, three times in my life, I kept busting the line, so now I have a weed whacker with no line. Have forgotten to go to the hardware store (and told Jeremy he needs to give me tips). 
  • I ate gelato, THEN dinner one night.
  • I Tracker-Junkied the sail race all week, way more than I should have, across various platforms.
  • I slept in the guest room of a friend’s house in the town I used to live in up until 3 months ago (this just felt weird not being able to go to my little house but ever grateful for Maria’s hospitality).
  • I ran an experiment with Reddi-Whip and Strawberries: Question: Do local farm berries or store-bought berries taste better when popped into a mouth full of whipped cream that is sprayed directly from the can? Answer: farm berries (burst of sugar happens sooner).
  • I took a bathroom selfie of the second time I dressed up this week.
  • I’m still eating that bag of tortilla chips, and currently am overcooking the chicken that’s in the oven right now because I’m too busy writing and can’t be bothered to eat something real.

Just over 12 years and 2 months ago, Christopher Jones was having a lie down on this couch, waiting for me to show up. He didn’t have any pants on; he quickly threw a blanket over him when I poked my head in the cracked open front door, surprising him. I stepped away quickly, blushing while he grabbed his jeans and made himself presentable.

This couch is in the same place it was then. Even though it’s been rearranged a few times in the living room, it’s back against the NE corner of the living room.

I’m having my own lie down on the couch right now (with pants on, thankyouverymuch) as this is, like the former owner of the house was experiencing, the last time I’ll be enjoying this piece of furniture.

It’s been here for more than 12 years under my ownership, part of the grand package of furniture I inherited when I bought this house, and who knows how long before that. The tags don’t give any indication of a production date.

It has a subtle texture, small rectangles patterned on the khaki upholstery. It has tall side arms and just the right amount of depth for sitting.

It’s seen ski movie nights, boyfriends, post-first date emotions, lonely holidays, knee surgery recovery, family visits, a baby shower, Christmas cookie parties, swipes on Tinder with two of my best guy friends next to me, parties for no reason other than my tenant and I were in our early 30s and single, been a host of the Snowpoclypse House of Refugees parties, a crash pad for city friends before we headed west to the Olympics, glitter under the cushions when tutus were sewn, squeezed 5 people on there for a movie, snuggled a small 2.5 YO while we watched cars for the 87th time, some hard line editing, where I tried not to die of heat exhaustion, home of accent cushions made by my mother, where I was nearly proposed to, late nights where I turned on some pretty terrible off-cable TV, where I decided to gamble everything last summer and move forward even though I wasn’t sure if my heart was ready to but knew that this was a chance I needed to take…

It is also a fantastic napping couch. You don’t sink into it like some overstuffed couches, but it is hard to get off it after a long evening of binge-watching Parks and Rec.

It still holds its shape and feels like it was purchased yesterday.

And, in 10 minutes, it will move on to its next chapter, with my tenant downstairs. There is a weird comfort in knowing it will stay on the property, at least for now, giving another woman a place of comfort and feeling of safety, much like it did for me the past 12 years.

Thank god for the office.

I felt the familiar pending sense of dread this morning as I laid half awake in bed, listening to the faint sounds of a boat horn or a fog horn that was growing increasingly annoying.

It was the sense of “Oh boy. Work from home is getting to me I think. It may be an office day.”

(I’ve been trying to balance WFH and going to the office to minimize exposure since the building where I work re-opened in July.)

Yesterday was what I called a half-Pandemic Blues Day. It wasn’t quite as mentally debilitating as last week’s Pandemic Blues Day, in which I sat in front of my computer with tears streaming down my face at 10 a.m. in the backyard, trying write something for work. That’s when I called it and took a Mental Health Day, which took the form of getting a coffee and a cookie, writing for 3 hours in my journal in the morning and then picking blackberries all afternoon.

Yesterday was a functional Pandemic Blues Day. I managed to work, but still felt angsty about life. The angst didn’t clear up until the afternoon when I threw as much energy as I could muster into a newsletter deadline and actually felt productive about something.

Thank god for deadlines. I have been living by them for the past 20 years. They make me move forward in life.

I was hoping this morning I’d wake up feeling rested and ready to jump into a day (and night) of lot of editing and writing (yay for two massive deadlines at once for work right now during the day, plus a personal project deadline in the evening).

But no. Again, a pending sense of dread. I thought, “I have to go into the office. I need a change of scenery.”

Don’t get me wrong – my work from home setup is pretty good. I tend to work well on the couch in the living room and the couch in one of the kid’s rooms, sometimes the cafe table in the backyard. I’m still adjusting to the latest version of my desk setup, which has a lovely view of trees, lots of light, an absurdly high-tech two-monitor and high speed GPU setup thanks to the fancy pants computer boyfriend, but frankly, it’s not comfortable and I think I finally figured out why.

My desk is just too damn big for me. After 20 years of working at generically, standard-sized desks, I’m EXHAUSTED from trying to make them work ergonomically for my small frame and short legs. Or maybe it’s not the desk as it is the chair. I’m about ready to slam down absurd amounts of money for one of those fancy Herman Miller Aeron chairs that I hear about all the time on NPR. (Or a knock-off, holy crap those things are expensive.)

I also love the 5-second commute to the desk. I feel like I get more done at home because I’m fresh in the head and do best diving into editing and writing first thing in the morning. The commute tends to chip away at that feeling by the time I get to the office.

Anyway, back to the start of the day.

I got out of bed with a defeated sigh from a poor night’s sleep, grabbed work clothes, scrubbed face, put on makeup, went downstairs to my sweet man of a boyfriend who suddenly realized his girlfriend was a distraught mess and tried to do what he could to help, packed up my computer, camera, lunch and flew out the door.

I thought I could make it to Poulsbo, 53 minutes away, without coffee and breakfast, but alas, I only made it to Chimacum and pulled into the Farm’s Reach, ordering an americano and breakfast burrito. After a few sips of coffee, the fog in my brain started to lift, as did the fog in the Chimacum Valley.

KEXP was playing Morrisey or the Smiths or some absurd nonsense like that which I despise, so I switched over to NPR, which was all politics. That was grating at first, but the Massachusetts primary results were interesting. A Kennedy, for the first time ever, lost an election.

Eventually I got tired of that and switched back over to KEXP, where the DJ was playing a song from one of the best albums of the year, “Untitled” by Sault.

Life started to feel a little more manageable.

Then the DJ announced requests for songs about getting through the first day of remote learning (boy, I feel for all those parents having to do double duty, as well as kids not being able to get the social interactions that are vital to their livelihood and development), one of them being Erasure.

Oh, Erasure. The band that introduced me to Brit pop in the 80s. Judge me all you want,, they were my first love for British music.

So, I’m heading down Highway 104, crossing over the fog-enveloped Hood Canal Bridge, stuck behind a semi, with a coffee in hand, belting out to Erasure’s “Respect” and suddenly feel OK with the world. For a second, life felt normal.

I thought about how pre-COVID, this scene was likely dreaded by most. Day in, day out, the drive, eating/drinking breakfast while driving, stuck behind slow vehicles, stressed about home life, work life, thinking about what to do about dinner that night, what’s the plan for this weekend, I need to make that doctor’s appointment, what did we do this summer, when was the last time I talked to my parents, I need to text back my sister …

But today, I embraced it. As sadistic as it may be, for a second, all the stresses taken for granted before March were felt and thought about and enjoyed.

Then the sky got a little brighter. And the fog started to lift.

 

For the first time in a while, I’m by myself in a functional house, revisiting what it’s like to be solo for a night.

Read: the boys are out camping and I can eat whatever I want and don’t have to share.

While the Bremerton house is torn up (so it feels), the Port Townsend house is quite settled and cozy.

But mostly what I’m interested in remembering what it’s like to only be responsible for myself for an evening.

I got to work as late as I wanted (well, I was on a major deadline today but that seemed to soften as 5 p.m. approached, so I relished in the luxury of tweaking the project as much as I could until 6 p.m.).

I already had my meal planned – I’d been looking forward to it for a week – portobello mushroom and chicken sausage cooked in a tomato sauce with spinach, topped with very strong parmesan cheese. And I didn’t have to share it with anyone! But I wanted to make rice to go with it. Which meant I had to figure out the rice cooker.

Note: I can barely cook rice on the stove to save my life. I’ve barely been successful with the oven method. Tonight though, I figured if I couldn’t cook rice in that stupid lidded pot with a few buttons, there would be no hope for me.

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Right now, my life is broken down into jumbled piles all over my living room.

Books in the corner by the TV, blocking the Roomba. All my chairs, side tables, lamps and accent pillows stacked on top of each other along the east wall. All my important adulting life documents on the dining room table. A growing pile of Goodwill items next to the cast iron fireplace. A broken down desk and an empty wooden IKEA shelving unit in the middle of the room. Boxes of office supplies, crafting supplies, old magazine and newspaper clips from my early years of my career, floppy discs, cassette tapes, and memories in various forms sitting precariously on top of each other by the front door.

I have to go through each of these piles of boxes and textiles over the next few months. I’m combining my single life of 20 years from a 2-bedroom, 1-bath house into a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with another person this fall.

I’ve never done this before. And I’m totally OK with it.

Right now though, it’s overwhelming walking into the living room when I come home after being away for a few days or a week. It takes me two days to just “Be” in the house before I can bring myself to do anything remotely domesticated or even broach the thought of sorting my life into Keep and Discard piles.

Tonight, though, after a day of about 5 hours of driving and another 3 hours of staring at my computer, I had to do something involving movement and tangible objects.

So, I started with the closest pile to me – old gift boxes and shoeboxes.

The gift boxes were overflowing with old tissue paper and gift bags. My instinct is to keep them because recycling; my gut is like, WHY? THEY ARE RATTY AND WRINKLED PIECES OF PAPER THAT YOU PLAN TO REGIFT? You’re a terrible and gross gift giver! (I KNOW. SHUT. UP.)

I just ignored the screaming, feeling like this was just a warm up exercise for the harder stuff.

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Memorial Day 2020

A little over 10 months since I sat at this dining room table in similar silence.

It’s (still) so quiet here in Port Townsend. Deadly silent is what comes to mind but it is very much not a threatening environment.

Until the fridge’s hum started a few minutes ago, literally the only thing I could hear was the soft rush of rain on the trees outside the dining room window. But it doesn’t match the visual of the pouring rain on the neighbor’s roof.

The only other sounds are from the birds, which I can hear through the open skylight in the bathroom about 15 feet away from me. So. Many. Birds. They’re sheltering from the rain that is pouring harder now than 10 minutes ago, but they are still talking to each other. I haven’t figured out which birds they are by their sounds. But no mourning doves, as we’ve heard regularly the past few weeks, and are starting to be annoyed with at first light every morning.

Or the chirping of the now-teenage European starlings that live inside the telephone pole in front of the house. We’ve been hearing, then seeing, the little bird family grow the past month, and observing Mom and Dad constantly bringing back food to the needy youngsters. We now think the young ones, who we saw learning to fly two weeks ago, are equivalent to 30-year old adults with no jobs and living in their parent’s basement.

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Today has been a harder-than-normal quarantine/work from home/restless day.

Kinda ranks up there with the fits Philip threw recently about doing schoolwork.

What’s wrong? I asked with a gentle but heavy sigh.

“Quarantine! Coronavirus! Not being at school! That’s what wrong!” he snaps at me on the iPad, flicking his head back and forth with a condescending sneer.

Sigh. The entire world feels that way, Kid. The ENTIRE WORLD.

But who can talk sense into a third grader who is in quarantine? Not me. Nor you. Maybe his mom. His world consists of his adults, his stuffed animals, his iPad, and his classmates and teachers on a computer screen. To him, they all seem happier than he is. Which makes him feel more miserable and more annoyed.

So he hides in his couch fort with his light sabers sticking out from between the cushions, and places a sign out front that says “Do Not Disturb” scrawled out in his shaky 8-year-old handwriting.

I totally get it, kid. Totally get it. We all get it.

Today was going to be “easy” for me. The To Do list seemed completely absolutely do-able. Write some things, edit some things. Nothing completely mind blowing. I was going to finish editing OMR notes from last week’s meeting, then move on to editing the two batches of photos from last week’s field work (!!!). Address some emails, edit some docs.

It’s 12:15. I’ve been on the computer since 8:30. Around 9 a.m. things started going downhill.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

9:22 a.m.

There are so many birds in my neighborhood.

So much chirping and flying and flittering about.

I never really noticed it until this morning. Or rather, I recognized how much I’ve noticed it lately. Especially when I saw that bluejay on my front porch an hour ago. I never see bluejays around here.

While there is still some traffic in Bremerton, given I live on one of the busiest streets, it is significantly quieter in the morning and evening. Hence, I can hear the birds more. It’s odd to hear nothing in Bremerton but birds.

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Day 5. Monday, March 23, 2020

Today starts the first full week of telecommuting, as directed by my office.

Given the nature of my job in real time and my opportunities to work from home when I have field work in the morning or afternoon, I feel I’m fairly equipped mentally to deal with the Work From Home situation. I can make myself pretty comfortable anywhere and be productive. Some days I need complete silence, so the house is great; some days I need some background noise, so the office or a coffeeshop works well.

Jeremy and I are essentially WFH together now – he works from home primarily anyway, so he’s set up. I just take over his dining room table when I’m in Port Townsend. He’ll likely camp out on my couch in Bremerton, or my dining room table.

I had successful “hangouts” with my mountain rescue team and friends over Zoom the past few days, which has made this self-imposed Shelter In Place more bearable. However, I haven’t quite felt the insolation or pent up feelings that it seems others are anticipating. My attitude about this whole thing has been “Well, OK, here we are. One day at a time. It is what it is. I will adapt and move on.”

Granted, I may feel differently in a week.

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