Friday, December 30, 2011

The New Year Is for the Birds (Literally)

A couple months ago my friend Julie and I were walking her dog through Irving Park, and right as we headed underneath a huge tree I noticed a flutter of gray wings, looked up, and spotted an owl. Seeing an owl in the wild has been on my "bucket list" for years -- up at the Audubon Society, I love nothing more than to visit Hazel and Julio, but I've longed to catch sight of one of my soul creatures unexpectedly, an offering from the Universe, a convergence of elements that lets me know everything is happening just as it should. Many, many times I dream of owls. I even think of them more as visions; colors burn bright in my dreams, the smells linger, and I wake feeling like I'd stepped into a different dimension more than I'd entered a dream. Always, I wake a touch disappointed; the dreams are beautiful and powerful, yes, crackling with energy, but they aren't the real thing -- at least in this dimension. However, back in late October or early November, there the gray owl perched in the tree, looking down at me. And this wasn't a quick glimpse either. I was able to follow the owl as it swooped from tree to tree in the park; it settled onto different branches, watching me watching it; at one point it landed in a low-hanging branch and I was only about ten feet away and near eye level with it. What a special moment, and to share it with such a wonderful friend. I kept pinching myself, and I even wrote to Julie the next morning, "This sounds strange, but I wondered if it was only a dream, like all the other dreams." (She wrote back with her dry sense of humor: "It better have been real! We were talking about me falling in love on our walk!")

This good omen, this owl sighting, has stayed with me as I've moved toward the end of 2011. Both beautiful and sad things have been happening these past few weeks. Buddy, my roommate Lisa's dog, died unexpectedly of complications from cancer; my brother Jordan and I have been able to spend some wonderful weekend time together, strengthening our relationship; my brother Aaron visited for Christmas; my mother continues to have her ups-and-downs on both the home and work front and I want nothing more than to make it all better, even though I know only she can do that; Gus and I headed up to Seattle to see Tori Amos in concert, following up our trip with stints as extras on the TV show "Grimm," which films here in Portland (we played cops!); my search for a literary agent keeps me in the bad habit of biting my nails; I've been plugging away at book two in my trilogy and loving what weird stuff I'm getting down on the page; Gus is looking for work after being part of the unfortunate Powell's layoffs and our relationship grows stronger even as he navigates the turbulent waters of doubt and change and growth (and good for him for getting out there and working on his Human Resources certification and diving into this next phase with gusto and an open heart); my reconnection with my estranged father continues to prove both challenging and rewarding; and so much more.

How wonderful to come back to those mind's snapshots of the owl, that first flutter of wings I noticed. When I look back, I seem to always have had a "bird theme" in my life. Over the Christmas weekend, Mom yanked out a box of old VHS tapes so we could dig for home movies, and I stumbled upon my copy of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, in pristine shape. See, back in Lemont, Illinois, where my family lived until I was twelve, I always used to frequent Four Star Video: how I loved that place, its magical feeling at the time, that whole world of movies opening up to my friend A.J. Beckert and me, how we'd pluck the coded tags off the hooks and swap them for our next horror movie viewings. The video store was run by a lovely woman named Diane (Diana?), who took a liking to us; she always seemed amused at our choices in films; I fondly remember her curly black hair and kind voice. One day I inquired about buying The Birds but decided my allowance wouldn't cut it. She accidentally ordered it anyway, and the next time I came into the store Diane beckoned me over with a smile, reached under the counter, and pulled out the tape. "It's for you," she said. "It's a gift." I thanked her, filled with such warmth and gratitude. And while I won't write a movie review here, I will say that The Birds is essential viewing -- it's mysterious, creepy, sad, and tense, with complicated characters and a sense of dread that gets under your skin in some romantic gothic way. Not everything is explained -- not much is explained at all, really -- and you're left to wonder if the attacking birds are doing so out of nature's revenge, or some supernatural force fueled by the hinted-at-incest between Rod Taylor's character and his mother ("Is his younger sister really his daughter?").

Over the years I've become more and more fascinated by birds -- owls, of course, and lately, hummingbirds, which seem to find me on a regular basis -- and things with wings have woven themselves into my novels: birds, angels. Yes, I can't seem to escape my love of things that soar over the land and view & experience things from sky angles. There's something about the sky, about its symbolic representation of heaven even, that tugs at my imagination and orders me to explore, in my writing, how they (and I, you, we) fit into the greater scheme of things.

Happy New Year, everyone. And everything (with wings). This one's for you.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Passage of the Day

"After a while Manny started up again, talking to himself, plotting, saying, 'What we gotta do is, we gotta figure out a way to reverse gravity, so that we fall upward, through the clouds and sky, all the way to heaven,' and as he said the words, the picture formed in my mind: my brothers and me, flailing our arms, rising, the world telescoping away, falling up past the stars, through space and blackness, floating upward, until we were safe as seed wrapped up in the fist of God."

--From Justin Torres' We the Animals

Friday, December 09, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Living well has something to do with the spirituality of wholeheartedness, of seeing life more as a grace than as a penance, as time to be lived with eager expectation of its goodness, not in dread of its challenges."

~ Joan Chittister
(The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Passage of the Day

"...the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees; then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology; from simple signals into complex grammar, and thus into humanity; from firelessness into fire, and thence into weaponry; and from seasonal mating into an incessant sexual twitching. Then they fell from a joyous life in the moment into the anxious contemplation of the vanished past and the distant future."

-- Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Can't wait for Friday, April 13th