Posts Tagged ‘quiet living’

the ether screams
headlines blare
so many voices

warning taunting
upscale vaunting
always wanting

to fear to hear
to see to go
to buy to know
as if

my happiness
my meaning
my purpose divine

their secret their special
their proven hack
their inside track

what I really want to do is


lean back, feet up
feel the cat’s rumbling purr
taste the wine’s memory of summer
smell the coming rain
hear my lover’s laugh


Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

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When I was in my early twenties, I moved house a lot—different roommates, different apartments, different towns, different states, different countries—and it quickly became obvious that there is a peculiar arithmetic attached to the process of changing residence.

No matter how much you have when you begin the move, you always arrive at your destination with less. It’s not so much that things get lost in transit (though that is a factor); it’s that when packing up, you tend to evaluate every object. Do I need this? Do I want it? Do I even like it anymore? Items that fail to make the grade are sold, donated, given away, tossed, or just plain abandoned.

For my first move out of my parents’ home, I took several pieces of furniture, four instruments, a rack of clothes, and a dozen boxes filled with household goods, papers, books, LPs, letters, and memorabilia. By the last of my youthful relocations, though, I had pared it all down to a mattress, two instruments, a suitcase of clothes, a backpack of toiletries, and three ratty cardboard boxes (one each for kitchen, books, and memorabilia). If pressed, I could pack up and be out the door within three quarters of an hour (faster, if I decided to leave the mattress behind).

Since then—after I married and found steady work—the pace of the moves slowed until, back in 1997, we moved into our first non-rental home and vowed never to move again. This new-found contentment did not, however, stop us from repeatedly culling the herd. The thing about owning a home is that you always accrue sufficient belongings to fill it (and then some), so periodically we still reevaluate and downsize our possessions.

I’ve written before on these pages about household purges, and we’re in the midst of one now, a big one, as we simultaneously prepare for retirement, redecorate and renovate the house, cast off clothing that’s way too big, and clear the shelves, cupboards, and cabinets of anything we no longer use or no longer want. In almost every way, we’re simplifying, and there’s a liberating feel to it. It’s rejuvenating, filled with all the excitement of a move but with none of the anxiety. And because it’s such a big effort, I’ve been digging deeper into the closets and storage spots than ever before, which led me to discover something interesting. Through all of these—moves and purges both—there is one area that never gets downsized: memorabilia.

To be fair, my habits regarding the accretion of memorabilia have always been austere, allowing only the most pithy of tokens to be added. As a result, I have only a small cigar box of ticket stubs, a tiny box with remembrances of cats now deceased, a shoebox of old love letters, and a wooden case designed for three bottles of wine that now holds a collection of disparate objects: shells from the Mediterranean, marbles won on my grammar school playground, my old wind-up metronome, a collection of keys from every place I’ve lived, a coaster from a London pub. Very little accrues to this potpourri now—ticket stubs are things of the past, my wife and I generally text “I love you’s” rather than send them via snail mail, and my marble-playing days are long behind me—so when I went through them last week, it was a jolt to the senses. The smoothness of a river-washed stone, the faded delicacy of a love note written on fabric, the scents of pipe tobacco and patchouli, the dull notes of brass keys.

In truth, there’s nothing in there but junk. There is absolutely nothing of any value in these boxes, nothing that could be sold or donated or that carries any meaning to anyone but me.

But they are sacrosanct, unpurgeable, pieces from the museum of my life’s story.

To paraphrase Spencer’s character in Pat and Mike, while there ain’t much there, what’s there is cherce.


PS. Items in photo, examples of said junk/treasure, anticlockwise from lower right:

  • Buttons from my first visit to the National Gallery, London; my first Ren Faire; and my first job
  • A pair of hand-made spectacles (for a medieval feast)
  • An acorn from Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, PA
  • Two first place ribbons from a jazz competition
  • A pair of dragons from my model building and RPG gaming days
  • A long-stem hobbit pipe
  • Wooden interlocking Escher lizards
  • A wooden car pilfered from the Toy Museum, Camden, London
  • A miniature brass Cupid, a gift from an old friend
  • A pocket copy of The Merchant of Venice, ex libris Vera Roads, West Australia, 01Jan1906
  • Stage fairy dust, given to me by the man who “flew” Mary Martin in the Broadway production of Peter Pan
  • Hand-painted pewter figurines, from our wedding cake

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Or, in other words,
A Home, when multiplied by a Renovation raised to the power of the Affected Area and divided by the Unity factor, equals the perceived level of Serenity.

As I sit down here in my basement, above my head Thor is wielding Mjölnir in a fierce battle against giant angry wasps.

Or so it seems.

And yet, I am at peace.

We are having new windows installed, replacing our old 1960 single-pane aluminum frame rattletraps (emphasis on “rattle”) with updated double-glazed, gas-filled, smooth-sliding jobs. Three windows, two sliding glass doors, and the pièce de résistance, a bay window in the bedroom, overlooking the gardens. It is a huge job, by our standards, and the saws—reciprocating, circular, oscillating/elliptical—plus hammers from small to monstrous and compressors and sundry other tools of destruction/construction are creating an acoustical landscape that makes one think of banshees, murder hornets, and alien warfare.

It’s the kind of chaos that would stress me out, worry my wife, and send Portia (the cat) running for her panic room (my closet).

And yet, my wife is happily alternating between watching her reality TV and napping, Portia is comfortably settled up beside her, and I am taking a break from my workday to compose this blog post.

It’s our being together, an island of mutual strength, that allows us to weather the storm that rages above-stairs. Though planets are being torn asunder, down here the clock ticks, the walls remain firm, and though the lights flicker each time the massive chop saw kicks in, we are surrounded by warm and comforting light.

Unity, reaffirming familial bonds, is a powerful tool. When we separate, we are weak, but when we join together, that makes us mighty. In a crisis, unity is crucial, but our ability to join forces against the world is made even stronger when we practice it, be it in running errands, making decisions, sharing a meal, or planning an event. Sharing the little agonies improves our technique and readies us for when the big agonies come along.

To be sure, this isn’t a big one, but it isn’t a small one, either. Seeing us here, though, calm and unruffled, gives me confidence that when a big one does land on our doorstep, we’ll be better prepared.


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the fraught world
    in the face of
        recycling boxes
        tidying the garage
        fixing a broken chair

global tensions
    against the power of
        weeding the garden
        harvesting tomatoes
        clipping summer’s last rose

folded laundry
   smooths global supply chains
clean countertops
    muffle rattled sabers

they’re not solutions
   but they ease my pain
        for an hour
        or a minute
            and sometimes
            that’s all I need
                to continue


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First, many thanks to those who showed interest in my new book, From the Edge (now available via Amazon). If you liked it, please  consider writing a review, as that helps drive its visibility.

Autumn figures strongly in From the Edge, as it is without doubt my favorite season (how’s that for a smooth segue?), so it should be no surprise that I’ve scheduled some time off for mid-October. We’re not going anywhere special—trips during the pandemic still carry too much anxiety—so we’re planning local activities and, as is our habit, we’re over-planning.

The kitchen white board now lists a few museums to visit and a couple of the bookstores we like to hit on stay-cations, but one category has grown out of all proportion to its fellows: Day Trips for Fall Color.

Seattle and the Puget Sound region are blessed in that we actually have four seasons. Much as we joke about us having only three—Summer (three weeks), Smoke (three weeks), and Rain (all the rest)—we really do have a distinct Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. And though we’re known as the Evergreen State, we have many areas of deciduous flora that make for stunning fall color vistas.

In combination, the region and the season have another advantage: variable elevation. Fall colors peak at different times at different elevations, so if (as has happened) our fall vacation arrives and the colors aren’t ready down hear near the Sound, we can drive up into the Cascades or the Olympics, where the colors get a two-week head start. Of course, if it is peak color time here at sea level, we have a great collection of parks and gardens from which to view them.

So, the Day Trips for Fall Color list on the white board includes the near (Kubota Garden, Washington Park Arboretum, Japanese Garden), the close and basically sea-level (the Mountain Loop Scenic Byway, the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way, the Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway), and the not-so-close and higher elevation (Stevens Pass Greenway, Leavenworth, and if we’re feeling adventurous, the Chinook Pass). It’s an embarrassment of fall-color riches.

More than just driving around to view the colors, though, we like to stop and enter the autumnal world, for there are scents and sounds that only come at this time of year, in leafy places when the colors rage.

There’s the crispness, a bit of sass, that thrives in the morning and evening air. There’s the urgency of chipmunks, seeking oil-laden seeds on which to grow fat for the coming winter. Birds, their feathers adapted for camouflage amid deep summer shadows or against dark wintry limbs, dart about in deep contrast to the bright riot of translucent hues. And the scents! The smell of moisture has returned after summer’s sere mien has passed. The earth-wood aroma of fallen leaves and rising mushrooms are the umami of forest glades. Rivulets and streams chuckle, happy in rebirth, and all around are the tiny paper-rustles of birds searching beneath leaves, the pit-pat of squirrels covering their caches, and the tentative steps of blacktail deer mincing along narrow, leaf-strewn tracks.

Autumn, to me, is a reward. It’s a reward for surviving the busyness of spring and the chores of summer. It’s the year’s twilight before winter’s somnolence. Autumn is the cognac by the fire before I turn in for the day.

And I intend to enjoy it.


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My Shadow

There is a man who lives not far from me. He is a quiet man.

Though we’ve met dozens of times, we’ve exchanged perhaps a hundred words, with a “Hey,” a nod, a “Howzit?”, or a wave encompassing our friendly, albeit distant, relationship. He drives a truck, likes to keep it clean, and rain or shine, he would take Rocco—his muscular doggo of high spirits and indeterminate heritage—out on their daily walk around the neighborhood.

For the past decade, Rocco was his constant companion, his shadow, so the day I saw him without Rocco, I knew something was wrong. A mutual friend informed me that, yes, Rocco had passed on a few days prior.

The next months were difficult for this man. His usual reserve was magnified. Meeting him at a gathering at our mutual friend’s place, his standoffish nature was pronounced, as if the company of others was almost painful. His grief was visible, and my heart ached for him.

Last week, I saw him again. He seemed more lively, younger even. He stood taller, and there was a spring in his step.

I waved. He waved back.

“Got a new pup!” he said.

“Wonderful! That’s very good news.”

There are pets, and then there are pets. Some are just a furry member of the family. Others, though, are true companions, and we are bonded, invested, tied to one another.

My wife and I have had a few pets—dog and cat—that never really bonded with either of us, animals that always strove for dominance or remained frustratingly aloof. We loved them, sure, but every day with them was a reassessment of the hierarchy, a test to see whose will was strongest, or simply a fulfillment of duty and need. Others, though, were different; we knew, without doubt, exactly whose pet it was.

Portia is definitely my cat. She follows me room to room, looks to me for treats, comes to me for snuggles and scritches. To her, my wife is merely a backup source of food, warmth, or even (in extremis) cuddles. I know I will outlive this cat (well, I certainly hope I will) and, like Rocco’s owner, I’ll feel the loss terribly when she’s gone, but having her in our lives is so much better than not having her here.

She is my shadow, even in the dark of night.


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Occasionally, the tyranny of social and news media becomes too much for me to handle.

About ten days ago, I reached my limit, full up to here with the naïveté of the left, the mendacity of the right, the fear-mongering of the media, and the narcissistic selfishness of humanity in general.

I needed a break. From damned near everything. (more…)

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