Saturday, July 14, 2018

Finding an old memory and how I had used it

In my first novel, the Color of Longing, one of the main characters lives in an odd roof-top shed/apartment in San Francisco. Only a few scenes take place there but it adds to the color and romance of the story. I knew I hadn't made the idea up completely, that somewhere I'd seen such a place but I couldn't remember where and I couldn't remember if it was from direct experience living in San Francisco many years ago.

This past week, I rewatched Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City, about a group of quirky characters in San Francisco in the early 1970s, not long after I lived there. I'd seen the then controversial TV series from the early 1990s when it first came out. It was controversial because it's about gays and free spirits and transgendered folks and it's lovely and so time-bound (the language, the jokes, the clothing all so 70s). It was a delight to see it again.

But here's why I'm telling this story. There, in the fourth episode of the series, was the roof-top shed apartment that I put into my novel. I didn't remember being impressed by it when I first saw the series (there are only two scenes of it and it's the home of the villain of the piece) but something in me stored that image away so I could use it later. It is delightful to know where it came from and a wondeful experience of the mystery of creating.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wanting to have less stuff

Whenever I travel, I love having so little stuff. A few simple choices in clothing with mmy decisions based on being warm enough or cool enough or if it is still clean. This last trip I took two pairs of trainers, one a bit dressier and one a bit sturdier. I had a warm jacket and a rain jacket. I had my iPad mini and a paper journal. I had four tops, two pair of pants, socks and underwear. I took nothing dressy. We didn't have those kinds of plans and I could wear a black T-shirt if need be. That was pretty much it. I love the simplicity of living like that.

When I come home from a trip, all my stuff feels overwhelming. A closet full of choices (quite a few of which I never choose), lots of books, art supplies, plenty of food and things to cook with. It's so much more than I need, and I feel really tempted to throw out a lot of it. In the dark hours of jet lag, I did just that. Well, maybe not a lot of it but at least some.

I forced myself to get rid of all the clothes in the closet I had never worn, all the shoes I wasn't sure I liked, the extra, extra set of towels and sheets, some pots and pans that have been in the back of the cupboards for a decade or more. It still isn't as sparse as I'd like but I feel more comfortable with it. Now if I can just not fill it up again. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The DNA of landscape

Although my last name is Kelly, I'm not very Irish. My grandfather's father was Irish, most likely from Antrim County in Northern Ireland. His mother though had a Scandinavian last name (Rapp) although many Irish and English families trace their ancestry through the Vikings. Most likely she came from an English or Swedish family. So my father is most likely 1/4 Irish (his mother was German and English) and me then I'm even less (my mother came from English families all the way back to the Middle Ages).

I didn't grow up Irish either. In fact, I don't remember my grandfather ever talking about being anything other than American although my father seemed proud of the Irish line. We didn't grow up Catholic or in an Irish community as occurs in Boston or Chicago or even Kansas City. But my sisters have Irish first names (Shannon and Kerry) and we all like that.

I didn't know how I would feel about going to Ireland or even why it was on my wish list. I knew from photos that it was a pretty and green place, and I'd long been interested in the Celts as I'd studied them during my years as a professor of French.

Well, I loved it. I felt at home there, especially in the landscape. I do not know if landscape resides in our DNA but it really felt familiar. The green hills, the sheep, the wild coast. The sky with its clouds and colors. All of it familiar. I relaxed there, I breathed deeply there. I walked in the countryside and in the town streets and felt at east. This experience has me wondering many things about where we come from and the land that we belong to.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Making jet lag work for me

On our trip over to Ireland, we did all the jet lag prevention things we'd been told. We slept a little on the plane, drank water, rested, ate lightly. When we arrived (11 am), we stayed up and kept moving. We went from the airport to the train station and took a 4-hour train trip to our destination. We settled into the airbnb apartment we were renting and went for a long walk and got some dinner. We played cards and stayed up until our real bedtime in the new zone. And while we were tired the next day or so, we were on the new schedule without any real difficulty.

Not so with coming back. It was an equally long day and an equally long flight. I slept a little twice on the longest leg into Portland and then stayed up when I got home and went to bed at my regular time. But I only slept about four hours, and at 2 am, I was wide awake and wired. And while the nights did get incrementally longer (2:30 am, 3 am, etc.) as time went on, it took most of a week to get back on schedule.

At first, I was really annoyed when I couldn't get back to sleep. I knew I'd get dreadfully sleepy in the midafternoon and be wide awake in the deep dark night, but then I just relaxed into it and started getting all kinds of things done. I started a new novel, cleaned most of my drawers and closets, got laundry done, my checkbook reconciled. I made the most of the time. It's amazing what you can do in those hours.

I'm back to regular sleep now and having to give up the afternoon nap habit, but I was glad I could make jet lag work for me. My place hasn't been so tidy in a long time.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An experience with medical care in Ireland

My travelling companion on the Ireland trip had an eye problem that grew worse as the days went by, and a week into our trip on a Sunday afternoon, we looked for an urgent care center or whatever the Irish equivalent was. We found something listed on line but couldn't figure out how to call it, so we just went there. We were very glad to have a rental car and one with GPS because we knew nothing about the town except how to get to the supermarket.

It was a little house and we entered into what was clearly a waiting room and we could see an exam room to the left. A big man came out and asked if we had an appointment and we explained we didn't, that we were travelling and her eye needed attention. He tried to explain the set up to us, that we had to have an appointment through a clinic in a city 60 miles away, but finally he just called that clinic and my friend talked to a nurse and explained what was going on and that seemed enough to get an appt. The appt turned out to be right away (there was no one else in the building) and a young man came out a few minutes later from the exam room. He was 30-something, dressed in jeans and a fleece jacket and trainers. He'd have been right at home here in Portland.

He examined her eye and talked to her about her symptoms and told her she needed antibiotics and to get it looked at when she got home. My friend is a retired nurse and that was what she had suspected. He took down some information from her passport and asked for 65 Euros (about $77), which we paid in cash, and sent us off to a pharmacy right by the supermarket. The whole thing had taken about 25 minutes.

Given our knowledge of the complications and expenses of the American medical system, we were astonished. The prescriptions (ointment and pills) cost her $27. No hassles, no forms, just help. Amazing.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The kindness of the Irish

In May, I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland. Spending time in the Irish countryside had been on my wish list for decades, and I finally arranged the time to go with one of my very best friends for 10 days. We travelled by train and rental car to three different places on the Atlantic Coast. 

Everywhere we went, people were exceptionally kind and friendly. On our first train ride out of Dublin, a young woman saw us trying to figure out which car we had seats for and she asked to see our tickets, took charge of our luggage, got us in the right car and the right seats, and put our luggage in the overhead racks. She did all this with a cheerful curiosity about where we were from and where we going. 

We met this kind of friendliness everywhere, in small towns and cities alike. People chatted with us, answered our questions, helped us out when we looked lost or concerned. The manager of the fish and chips place where we ate one night gave us directions to a supermarket and spent 10 minutes talking to us about where the fish came from (their own boat, caught two hours before we ate it) and wanted to know about our travels. This was in a little working class town where we saw no other tourists. 

It is hard not to compare this to the guarded indifference of most Americans totally absorbed in their phone screens. It made me come home determined to be kinder to all I meet and proud to have Irish blood. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Another April poem

In a culture
of false urgency
it’s revolutionary
to feel the breeze
against your arm
to hear the love song
of a robin
to notice the delicate perfume
of a passing lilac

In a culture
of competition for
it’s extraordinary
to offer tenderness
in a chance encounter
to offer connection
to a lonely stranger

In a culture
of isolated desires
it’s astonishing
to pause
although it’s what
we all long for
and what we too often
hold back

Jill Kelly,  April 28, 2018