Peripheral Visions

Photo Oct 21, 5 29 00 PM

I don’t worry about the obvious things.

When I enter a state of worried-panicked-frenzy, I know better than to examine what’s right in front of my nose. I have always managed to keep those details well tended. The thing I am wary of: The periphery.

I, like many alkies and addicts, am very good at keeping up appearances. I know what to say and how to say it — even to myself. I mastered that skill long, long ago. Back while I was still drinking, I had to convince myself, and you, that I was not only OK, but, better than OK. — Great. Stellar. Perfect.

These days, I often find myself painfully sober. So, I keep up other appearances. Without the booze, emotions and feelings become a special-kind-of-complicated — communicating them, containing them, and sometimes hiding them — even more so. I feel it, the hair on my arms stands up as the pub turns on it’s magical-magnetic-tracking-device. I fight the pull. But, I keep quiet, because I’m OK. — I think.

But, that’s how it happens. Or, so I’m told. Seasoned, sober old-timers will tell you that it starts, first, with that teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, little thought — You’re OK. The second thought becomes — well, a bourbon might end up being OK too. And, the third thought — there’s no time for that — because you’re already seated on a bar stool. Struck drunk.

It isn’t obvious. All these little things appear innocuous. The fucking periphery.

So, I tread lightly. I can’t see where or how all the shit starts to pile up. But, I’m starting to notice my own cracks and how they’ve widened. I’m no fortune teller. I can’t say when or how, or even if, it will collapse. Yeah. Maybe, it won’t collapse. But, it’s there — the little voice that tells me — It. Just. Might. Collapse.

The not-so-obvious feeling. That’s the one that worries me.

On a Friday night, I stay in as a precaution. I sit at the dining room table and I write it down in Sharpie marker on a little, maroon notepad — the most obvious thing I can think of: Don’t fuck it up.

I pour myself another cup of coffee.

It’s tenuous and tenacious — my sobriety. In this moment I respect it’s power. I allow my unwise inclinations to dissolve. I let them go. I don’t judge them.

Lots of things can happen, the good and the bad. So, I decide to open my eyes a little bit wider. I monitor the periphery closely.

In a still moment, my little feelings subside. My coffee mug is still warm in my hands. I’m here. Now. And — I’m OK.

Better than OK. — I’m Great. Stellar. Perfect.


Fowl Advice


The world is full of quacks. I’m starting to think this is a good thing.

Every morning, I walk over a small bridge that crosses the stream running through the local college campus. And, it has become my custom to stop and acknowledge these quacks — the campus ducks. There is a pair to whom I am partial. Mallards. They glide downstream until their rustled feathers are halted by the usual obstructions — fallen trees, large, mossy rocks, and other, floating fowl. They are un-phased by delays.

For a long time, I paid no attention to the feathered duo. I walked too fast —  my heart rate up,  burning my calories, set in my circular trajectory. But, one morning, as the ducks honked, announcing the dawn’s return, I flashed back to a memory of my grandfather:

Many years before he died, I sat in his living room. I’d taken a bar of soap from his bathroom and hid behind his couch with a wooden mallard duck that he’d displayed on his coffee table. I was a small child, and I had decided that “washing” the duck by grinding soap into its carved feathers would be a most helpful thing to do. When my grandfather discovered me, he was stern. His ducks weren’t toys. So, we stood at the kitchen sink together and he carefully removed the soap from the mallard’s etched wings.

In sobriety, I have always gone full speed ahead — no time to observe quiet waters. I quit my job. I went to rehab. I hit 12-Step — hard. I got a new job. I did the work. I never stopped to look around me. I never stopped to ask for guidance — especially not from quacks. I waited to be told the truth. I waited on orders that never came. And, when I lost my footing, I waited for a hand to reach down and pull me up. I never expected I’d learn my lesson from a pair of ducks. Yet, every morning, they honk out their reminder: “Slow down, be thoughtful in how you make your way around the trees and the rocks and other quacks that deter you.”

As the sun summits the tallest pines, I peer over the bridge’s railing. I look for my grandfather there — the mallard. I think that maybe his loyal companion is my grandmother. She died before I was born. But, I’ve been told how much my grandfather loved her — heard stories of his broken heart after she died — he was never quite the same. At his funeral, my voice cracked as I gave his eulogy. I hoped, if spirits do live on, that theirs were together.

Angels and idealism, I’m told, are for children. But, I still look for signs and symbols. I wait for messages. I have been called a seeker. I’ve been told, time and again: No external thing I seek will fix my broken things inside. So, on someone else’s word, I stopped looking. — But, the ducks keep showing up.

While home on vacation, atop a pile of cleaning products my mother had put aside, I saw a small, circular piece of stained glass. It appeared to be one, dark blue piece at first glance, but when I held it to the light, there they sat — a pair of mallard ducks. I asked my mother where she’d found it — It was from my grandfather’s house.

Sometimes, it’s best to dismiss the things we’ve been told. There are words and there are things that can be seen. I see the mallard. He is real. Visible. Audible. He invites me to remember the things that have come before and the things that linger. He reminds me: There is most certainly a spirit that lives outside myself, sent to mend the broken things. We are not alone.

At the bridge, I stop and breathe. I let the honking fowl punctuate the dawn. I remember my grandfather’s laughter. I embrace a childish ideal. If we remain seekers, there will always be ducks to find. So, I peer over the bridge’s edge and watch them. Rustled feathers. Gliding happily downstream. Together.

The 25th Renewal












Apparently, I have $8.75 in library fees.

During the obligatory-vacay-inbox-check, I was greeted by a friendly email reminder from the Multnomah County Library — I need to renew a book I checked out over a year and a half ago, for the 25th time.

Yes. The 25th time.

I’ve already read the book, twice. I just haven’t gotten around to returning it. And, with modern conveniences, like online renewal, I’ve put it off. It’s not wait listed. There are plenty of copies. Why not keep it? No one suffers and I save myself a trip.

But, for some reason, amidst the joys of vacation, I decided to over think the general concept of renewal — and the art of putting it off. While I lay in the luscious, summer sun of upstate New York, big green leaves fanning me with the East Coast breeze, I got the distinct feeling that you probably shouldn’t set your own renewal on autopilot. Renewal is something special. Invigorating. You can’t just go somewhere to return and reset — it’s a process of internalizing and letting go. It’s something intricate. A little thought. A micro-decision. Lilliputian, really. Something so miniscule that we don’t realize it’s happened until we are renewed. And, while the action of renewal is undetectable, its aftermath — sheer glory.

It’s sort of like vacation — I knew I needed one, but, I didn’t know how badly until I got back home. I lay in my own bed, jet lagged, took a few deep breaths, and for the first time in months I finally felt the oxygen in my lungs. Even in a state of total exhaustion there was a sense of relief. There is a certain pleasure in returning home, to my adult life, after being transported back to a strange version of my childhood for a week and a half.

My first day back to work, I woke up with the alarm at 4:45AM. My body didn’t complain or resist. The dark of morning cast a sweet spell over the streets of Southeast Portland, and the world felt easy and comfortable. As I jogged down the hill on Steele street, the wakening sky hung behind the West Hills like a new canvas. All one color. A clean slate. And, there, I felt it — my renewal. I smiled, alone in the dark.

It’s a worthy practice to appreciate old things seeming new, even if they aren’t. To take yourself away from your default condition is a spiritual experience — an opportunity to return to center with different eyes. And, while we may not be better or worse for our time away, we are undeniably changed. Renewal is just a synonym for gratitude.

This week, my renewal was advanced to me without having to visit the Multnomah County Library website. So, with appreciation, I dig out my library book, a year and a half later. Sigh. It’s time. This book cries out for a new place on a different shelf. I walk to my local library branch and I drop the dusty tome into the big-metal-slot for some other book worm. Yes, please, check this out —  it’s an old book, but, after moving from shelf to shelf, there’s something new and special with the turn of each page — a secret every library card holder knows.

The book sounds a heavy thud as it hits the bottom of the return bin. We had a good run. But, we are not meant to hold on to things forever. And, by letting go, we are reunited with the genuine delight of returning to things that are truly our own.

Stay saucy,






Photo Aug 12, 5 27 26 PM

In my childhood bedroom, I sit cross-legged and allow myself to feel old.

It’s been years since I’ve seen this place. Everyone looks a little bit different. The landscape here has changed just enough to make things seem otherworldly. Like, I’ve returned to some alternate universe to find a different version of everyone I left behind years ago.

What has happened here? And, why is everyone getting married?

It’s my family reunion. I get a funny feeling that I can’t shake. I stand in strangely familiar surroundings — an observer and an alien. My awkwardness, performed in a nuanced fashion, is easy to disguise. Once, I was happily impaired as swarms of relatives buzzed around me — a host of inquisitive flies. Today, each encounter is centered. I see a different version of myself reflected in every set of eyes I look into — like watching an old VHS tape.

While standing in line for salad, I wonder if the only thing I have in common with these people is blood. I refill my red Solo cup with raspberry-lime seltzer right beside the keg where my relatives line up for the good stuff. Lager foam spills over the top of their cups and they push off the excess with their index fingers. They all ask me how life is treating me out West, and then, turn back to the keg without listening to my answer. I remember how easy drunken pleasantries were, I used to make them myself, between sips of frothy vodka sours. Maybe it’s me who’s rude these days, but, I’m less concerned with hurt feelings than I’ve been in years past.

The truth is, back West — it’s all unraveled. But here, in front of the macaroni salad — it’s whatever you’d like to hear.

My cousins pull me onto the dance floor at the bar where everyone has headed after a long day of family togetherness. They all do the twist, raising their arms up, cocktails spilling over the sides of their clear plastic cups onto the dance floor. I jostle my hips, stiffly, from side to side. This isn’t any fun sober.

In another universe, drunken dancing would have been the highlight of my evening. Tonight, I just want to go home. I tell my cousins I’m too tired, because I am, and I leave, alone.

I walk home on a dark country road. Another super moon dangles in the sky like a giant light bulb. The road, that’s usually pitch black at this hour, glows a hazy blue. The trees are lower to the ground here than they are in Oregon and the shadow levels us — there is something comforting in the congruence of our size. For a just a moment, we are all perfectly rooted in the Earth.

As I walk up the driveway to my house, I replay the day: As if it were choreographed, a parade of bathing suits, cut-off jeans, and summer dresses weave in and out of mismatched wooden chairs with peeling paint. My grandmother’s voice — caught in her throat at the sight of us all together. Tiny babies. Weddings planned and divorces finalized. Not-so-tiny-babies. Childhood brethren and sworn mortal enemies. It’s more drama than a good soap opera. Characters that move about wildly, without predictable trajectories. I stop to remind myself — everyone’s family is crazy.

Everything looks different through a steady lens. And, I feel it — an era has ended. Time is moving at different speeds. But, eventually — inevitably — we will all meet again. We will stand at the keg, whether we’re drinking from it or not. We will ask each other how things are going, only to realize — we never really cared to know the answer.

Stay saucy,


As The Crow Flies


In my world, there are no straight lines.

There is no single road that will take you back to my origin. My time is marked only by people and the smoke signals cast up from the wildfires of my heart. Sometimes the fire burns low — but it hasn’t gone out yet. While things smolder here, I yearn for the heat of my childhood fire. And, like a migrant bird that moves with the seasons, I know where to go.

Tomorrow, I fly East. Back to my home. There, I will plug-in to the people that have kept me lit up for as long as I’ve been gone, down, and lost. Extension cords across a nation. Beacons and anchors.

When I booked my flight, I imagined my trip as the great escape. My chance to flee all the ghosts that I’ve been dancing with for the past few months. I could see it — My mother’s actual shoulder, ready for my tears, instead of my neck craned over my own as I weep into the phone. My father, sitting on the couch, turning inky newspaper pages while the smell of coffee circulates under the ceiling fan. My cousins, making wise cracks on the deck, all with pasty white, Irish skin — reflecting the sun in their two-piece bathing suits — wet hair wrapped up  in old, weathered beach towels. My grandparents, like pigs in shit — surrounded by their clan — we unite, flanking all sides of their home. These people, these moments — they are not meant to facilitate my escape, but, instead, to bring me back to life. They revive my spirit with a power I have never known in my solitude.

These are the real things in life to hold fast to — Family. Love. Home. — You will forget until your crooked lines remind you.

This year has been sobering. I’ve watched myself morph. I’ve watched the people around me walk in and out of shadows. I have new, deep scars that I will wear forever — with pride. And, to my surprise, it’s got nothing to do with the drink. It’s more to do with the fact I haven’t needed one. Yes, crooked lines were drawn, but each end meets its own Mecca.

Sometimes, the breeze off the Willamette River smells like a summer’s day in New York. I hold that air in my lungs. I long for the people that kept me once as a child, who love me still — miles apart. They still follow my path, like the tip of a finger on a map. They stay the course, however deviant. They see, in me, something simple. We live inside each other. My heart knows these people — we are the saviors and the saved.

Kindred — We know the easiest and the most difficult kind of love.

We have come as we are. We accept each other this way — The mess on the dining room table. The 10 extra pounds. The broken heart. The busted tail light. The empty wallet. It’s there. It’s ours. It’s us. On display. They take me. I take them. They love me. And I, — I love them back — their messes and their pounds and their hearts all the same.

So, just this once, I draw a straight line through the clouds.

Metal bird, take me as the crow flies — not to my escape — but to my return.


Stay saucy,





**ARTWORK CREDIT: Andrew Wyeth, ‘Crows, Study for Woodshed,’ 1944. Watercolor on paper laid down on board.**


The Play’s The Thing

Photo Jul 20, 8 48 56 PM

I was an awkward kid.

Chubby, unpopular, and supremely geeky – I was a lone wolf – with terrible glasses. And, while I was painfully aware of this reality, I was also accepting of the fact that there wasn’t much I could do to change it. My prep school was a popularity contest I would never win. So, I lived for the weekends. I’d sit at home, alone, watching Molly Ringwald movies, aspiring to her unsurpassed level of chic-geekdom — one I would never achieve.

In the 7th grade, I thought I’d made my big break. I got one of the lead singing roles in the school play. When I saw my name posted at the top of the cast list, it set off firecrackers in my soul. Behind me, the popular girls were huddled up, whispering and laughing. But, for the first time, I didn’t care that they were making fun of me. I was going to be a star.

We rehearsed for weeks on end. I sang and sang and sang. Kids who’d never given me the time of day before were coming up to me and telling me I had a great set of pipes. My fat-kid heart didn’t know what to do with all the attention. So, I just kept singing. It was enough. It had to be. It was my only ace in the hole.

The night of the big show, I walked out on stage. A blue-tinted follow spot guided my chubby ass to center stage. I saw my classmates in the audience, 100 blinking hyena-eyes in the dark. I felt my heart, near explosion, clattering against my ribs. The music played. I sang. Everyone clapped. And, in that moment — the applause, the hot lights, the rustle of paper in the orchestra pit — I was enough.

After the show my parents gave me hugs and flowers in the lobby. Then, like nothing had happened, we drove home, my bouquet laid neatly across my lap. The popular girls went out to a diner together for ice cream sundaes. I was home alone again with Molly Ringwald. The play was over. My star, extinguished.

My search for enough started long ago. No matter where or who I’ve been, I’ve never felt fully sufficient. I’ve always looked to improve in some way. Do more. Give more. Be more. And yes, eventually, drink more. I did all this with the idea it would make me better in some way. Every relationship, job, or activity I get involved with — I always wonder if, this time, I will be enough.

I dream I will find this perfect place of enough-ness where I can do no wrong. It hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll tell you why — I am already enough.

No one told me on the night of the play, but, I would learn later: Ice cream sundaes with mean girls who made me feel like a worthless bug every day of my life– was not the prize. The prize was that I stood up on that stage and sang. I gave away my goods. Fearlessly. I opened my big-geek-mouth and I sang for those snickering bitches. No one paid me. No one offered me friendship. At best, I got a compliment or two from a few moms in the lobby. I sang because it made me feel like I existed. That spotlight, it lit me up. Chubby. Little. Me.

In times of frustration, when I throw up my hands and say “I’ve had enough!”, I return to my own, true self. In my surrender, I become enough. Suffering is the conduit that brings me to my authenticity. On that stage, I stood judged, but, I stood tall — chub and all — authentically me.

Enough doesn’t look one way. Enough is its own entity. We can be geek priestesses and pop stars simultaneously. One does not diminish the other, and, both are sufficient. Enough is not a quantitative word — nor is it qualitative. Enough accepts what is.

So, walk to center stage and sing, Goddammit. Sing your existence. Sing your enough-ness.

The audience — doesn’t matter. The play’s the thing.

Stay saucy,




Light Me Up


Once upon a time, I was a pyromaniac.

Like most small children, my cousins and I loved us some camp fires. And, it’s true, our “camp site” may have been mere feet from my house — but, under the canopy of trees, amidst all the night-time noises, wielding our sticks topped with blackened marshmallows like weapons, eyes ablaze with the reds and oranges of the camp fire — it didn’t matter. We were rebels, living off the land. (Even if we did walk back to the house in pairs to pee in the middle of the night.)

Before dusk fell over “camp,” the adults would send the kids off to collect kindling for the fire. We’d all return to the pit with fat branches and heavy logs, eager to light up our inferno. My dad would explain that kindling is the small stuff: Twigs. Dry leaves. Little, crackly branches. The small stuff. That’s what gets the fire going.

I imagine it’s difficult to explain to a child that the little things make the big things happen. I mean, fuck, it’s a hard sell for most adults. Even today, when I throw my giant, proverbial logs onto the fire with fervor, the flames burn low.

As I gear up for a trip to my childhood summer home, I find myself thinking about all the lessons I learned as a kid. How do we get back there? How do we relearn what we completely missed while we were too busy having fun? My skin still itches for that childlike freedom to run, escape, rule, revel, save, and sleep…for days.

I want my life to be this big-ass, rip-roaring fire. Yet, here I am, stumbling with the big logs, when it’s become apparent — I need kindling — and lots of it.

While today’s twigs and leaves are a far cry from the ones I found pawing around in the dirt, it is still life’s simple, even childish, pleasures I covet. Sleeping in til’ 10AM. Hugging my cat after a good cry. Banana ice cream — for breakfast. Aimless walks. Reading library books in the bath tub. Two-hour phone conversations with my cousin (and fellow-former-pyro). Gardening on the stoop in my ugly jeans. This. My writing.

It’s uncomplicated. It’s almost too easy. I think that’s how we miss it. Kindling may be the the simple stuff, but, it’s scattered. It hides on the forest floor, so, you gotta get on your knees. You have to forage. You have to make sure it’s good ‘n’ combustible. Because, once you’ve laid the foundation, twig-by-twig, all you need is the match. That crack-then-hiss of sulfur and sand paper — BOOM — Fire.

I can still feel her, that little-girl-Sarah, ploughing through the woods. No fear. No hesitation. Her knees in the dirt. Her hands in the earth, gathering it all up. Every. last. dry. crackly. bit. Her uninhibited, childlike desperation was a gift I would not understand until it was long gone.

It occurs to me that I know her heart far better now than I ever did back then. I know things beyond her capacity. I’ve seen too much. Yet, I still understand her unapologetic, wild heart because — we share it.

We, the girl and the woman, are still in hot pursuit — Kindling. Matches. FIRE.

Light that shit up.


Stay saucy,