Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Oops, I Did It Again

I’m at it again, trolling Redfin looking for the house I’m supposed to live in next.

Another month, and our remodel will be finished and our house will be on the MLS and enticing prospective buyers. Since it will be full-on spring when our garden’s at its loveliest, and also since our house will be in that popular mid-price range, we’re anticipating (and praying and hoping and sending out our cosmic requests) a quick sale.

People ask why we’re going to move when we love it here.

The answer: we need the money. My husband has been unemployed for two and a half years, the project house we bought last summer has racked up costly delays, and my writers’ studio, though a success by our standards, earned us an income well below poverty level. (On the upside we are now grateful recipients of subsidized healthcare.)

People also ask where we’re going. My answer has been: “I don’t know.”

And it’s true, but I had a house in mind, one that’s been on the market for years, one with an incredible water view, less than a half-mile walk to the ferry terminal and library, in Kingston, the same town my prayer partner (who moved from California lives in). A house I’d seen with my husband and one of our daughters and my two closest friends, and had taken a ferry ride to see it from the water. A house I thought, with some negotiating with the seller, was waiting just for me (and my husband and our five cats).

Our realtor didn’t know why it hadn’t sold, possibly a combination of factors that made it unattractive to many buyers: it’s 1300 sq. ft., not large for a waterfront home. It’s a manufactured home which some people snub their noses at and which means a second story addition is not possible. It’s on private road and the road travels through the one-acre lot. The hillside above the road is extremely steep and unusable and might slide in heavy rains. The very high-bank waterfront doesn’t have beach access, and the lot between the house and the water is steep and completely overgrown with blackberries and weeds.

None of those issues were deal-breakers for my husband and me. I’ve lived in two manufactured homes—in fact the dream house we built in California was a manufactured home set atop a site-built first-floor. The house has a two-car garage, room for a shed for our tools, and walls of windows that frame a view that encompasses the Cascade Range from Mt. Baker in the north to Mt. Rainier in the South. Cargo ships and the ferry ply the Sound regularly, and orcas are often sighted there as well.

I pictured our telescope (which has not been unpacked since we moved from California) set up in our living room so I could be on whale patrol each morning while I sipped my tea and looked out at the water. I imagined praying with my prayer partner on the deck while eagles glided by (which we’ve done once when we went to check out the house and the neighborhood for the first time).  

I envisioned walking into town to lead writing groups at the tiny local library, and to launch our kayak at the public beach if I couldn’t convince my new neighbors to let me use their staircase to the water.

I was going to invite writers over on Saturday mornings, and replace the window in the dining room with a sliding door and make a gravel patio for our picnic table where we’d eat every possible meal al fresco while the ferry traveled the waters and Rainier towered in the distance.

I knew where my husband would park his truck and where I’d sit to write during the day, how I was going to hack a path through the blackberry to the edge of the cliff so I could look down at the beach. I hadn’t quite worked out where to put the cat door and our cat run and if I was going to rent out the second bedroom to writers on occasion.

In short, I’d imagined my life there (the way I had in Pacifica in the months we tried to make that work). But two mornings ago, I was checking email at the dining room table, and there it was in my Redfin update, the house on Washington Blvd. had “gone pending.” I gasped. My husband heard me from his office down the hall. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

Gone pending. Pending: pending inspections, pending financing, pending whatever conditions and timeframe the buyer and seller agree to, as they’ve entered a contract. Gone. Gone? Sometimes homes fall out of contract and go back on the market, but knowing how long these sellers, who now live in Arizona, have been trying to sell their vacation house, I know they’re motivated. I might have a chance, but I have to let go of the dream, the fantasy that soothed me as I thought about our uncertain future.

“If it’s not this, it’s something better,” my husband reminded me.

So I do my virtual scouting, wondering if I’ve missed something in my inbox, if I need to change my search parameters, if the next right house is languishing undiscovered. I don’t think I’ve found it yet, but I want to be—will myself to be—certain that I’ll know it when I see it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In the Land of Aluminum Skies

My father asks how I like living in the land of aluminum skies.

The Bainbridge Ferry coming into Seattle

Poetic as aluminum skies sounds, there’s the misapprehension
by those who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, that our skies 
are always a veil a monochromatic shade of desiccated liver 
as far as the eye can see.

Our front yard on a snowy day

When I lived in the Sacramento Valley during high school
and college, Tule fog invaded each winter, the sun, 
nothing but a fond memory for weeks on end.

In Puget Sound though, my wall of windows frames an expansive
skyscape that kaleidoscopes throughout the day.

The western view from our dining room

Gray clouds layered thick like thundering club sandwiches
of charcoal and steel, pigeon and dove, slate and dolphin,
become taffy-stretched thin, gauzy layers of pale pantyhose
bunched around God’s ankles, then stack bulky like wadded
white sheets dulled by cold water washes.

Seattle from Eastern Bainbridge Island

Seattle from Eastern Bainbridge Island

And the blue, when it’s here, always looks Photoshopped, 
enhanced, too dramatic to be real.

Crowns of billowing clouds that make me think
Big Sky and Montana though I’ve never been there.

Manzanita Bay near our house

And when the sky is a clean slate, it’s not the pale
California robin’s egg blue, too shy to call attention
to itself. 

The blue here is royal, regal, a deep dazzling 
aerial ocean, iris and sapphire, cornflower and cobalt, 
powerful and intense, relentless as it commands the gaze.

Seattle Skyline from the Columbia Tower Observatory

The sunsets, when the sky is clear, flame reds and burnt 
oranges and scalding pinks in raucous ribbed tongues.

Sunset from our house

Sunset over Manzanita Bay from our kayak

Clouds are seared charcoal and ember and the day
dissolves into fire then ash. Each night a burnt offering;
each new dawn a blessing in the land of aluminum sky.

Family sunset kayaking

Manzanita Bay before a snowstorm

P.S. Dad: It's safe to say I love it here!

Winter sunset at Manzanita Bay

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sleepless Near Seattle

We were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner last night, when remembering it was Marti Gras, my husband asked me what I was going to give up for Lent, thinking my answer would involve food, probably Corn Dippers, Trader Joe's organic take on Fritos, my post-midnight go-to. 

But a moment later, the answer that shot boldly from my mouth surprised us both: Ambien.

Those of you who can turn your brains off at bedtime, you blessed folk who can climb under the covers and doze into dreamland within minutes, will not know what Ambien is, except to have heard crazy stories about people who drive to destinations unawares, or conduct online shopping sprees, or refrigerator raids under the influence of this sleep aid.

Those of you, like me, who have struggled with insomnia, as I have since at least the age of seven, will know that Ambien is guaranteed uninterrupted sleep (5 hours of sleep with 2.5 mgs for me). 

As far back as I can remember, when I lay down at night, my mind lights up. All that I have experienced in the bright noisy hours of day parade past for review: things I should have said or done and didn't, couldn't. The comeback to a criticism finally formulates. Future events line up for speculation: courses and classes and vacations a year or two or ten away.

Anxiety's long shadows sweep into view as humdrum house sounds become ominous, car doors slammed in the street become burglars at my windows. Thoughts of death intrude: my parents', my husband's, my children's, and how I would survive without them.

Plots of books and movies that filled my head before bed play an endless, revising loop. 

Insomnia has its very few benefits. As a child, I never fell asleep at slumber parties, and so was the prankster (freezing bras and drawing toothpaste mustaches on friends) rather than the pranked upon. In high school, I worked until ten or eleven at night and still had energy for homework afterward. In college, I waitressed graveyard shifts on weekends, and pulling an all-nighter to study was only difficult after four a.m. 

But mostly, my insomnia has been like the pile of medieval weapons stuffed under Princess Winifred’s mattress (in Once Upon a Mattress): painful, impossible to ignore, leaving me groggy and grumpy and accident prone. 

I often sneaked out of bed as a child and sat in the hallway while my mother sewed, listening to the TV. Eventually she would escort me back to bed, where I would toss and turn for hours.

As a teen and well into adulthood, I would read in bed, but unlike others, who fell asleep in minutes, I would still be turning pages at 3 a.m.

I come home from an evening class or workshop imagination sparked and wound up for hours.

The first weeks after my wedding my husband's breathing kept me awake nearly all night. When fall classes began a month later, I found earplugs at the bookstore checkout counter, and have worn them every night since.

When my children were infants and woke to nurse throughout the night, I often didn't sleep until morning. 

Later there were nights we shared a hotel room, and the drone of the air conditioner, it's blast across my face, the shuffling sheets and puffing breaths as my husband and children slept drove me to tears. I closed myself in the bathroom, lamenting in my journal.

I'm naturally a night owl and the world I've inhabited is designed for early birds. I have gone to work and meetings and medical appointments and airports many mornings wrapped in gauzy dullness with a throbbing headache from inadequate sleep. I have been cranky and snappy and ruined other people's days, as well as my own. 

By the time I hit my late forties and had unsuccessfully run through myriad over-the-counter and herbal sleep remedies, I began to wake from my already fitful sleep drenched, thinking my mattress was ablaze. The beginnings of menopause. It was more than I could take. I needed sleep; I wanted sleep. My doctor prescribed Ambien. 

The first night, I took a full 10 mg and was amazed that I slept an entire eight hours without waking once. It felt miraculous.

Ambien was a godsend those next few years when I travelled to earlier time zones in Nashville and San Antonio for church programs, to Santa Fe for my grad school residencies. It allowed me to participate in the day's programming (although I never did make it out for breakfast), to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, to artificially unplug my over-stimulated mind because I couldn't do it myself.

In the years since, I’ve cut down drastically on dose and frequency, as I’ve begun to experiences side effects: headaches, nightmares, and depression in the following days. Now the sleep is no longer uninterrupted.

If I’m going to bounce out bed multiple times to write to-do lists, or finish an editing project, if I’m going to rotate like a rotisserie chicken all night, tossing covers off and pulling them back on, if I’m going to barely dip into unconsciousness, and be off-kilter the next day, I might as well do it naturally.

So this Lent I will give up Ambien and give in fully to my nocturnal nature. I will listen to my insomnia when I’m under the covers and let my mind meander through thoughts dark and light until its exhausted.

I will try to be patient with myself in the wide-awake dark as well as the dim daylight. And, hopefully, I will learn what being sleepless near Seattle has to teach me.