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The Weathered Wall

2016-08-22 Basalt layers.jpg
Basalt layers in Crooked River Canyon


From 1992 to 1996, there was a nightclub in downtown Seattle called, in full, And the Weathered Wall, the Purity Remains, but which was called The Weathered Wall by anyone who didn't want to sound like a pompous ass. The full name was painted on one of the walls of the club, and I thought it was attributed to one of the Romantic poets, but Google isn't helping me with that vague memory. In any event, I always loved the short name, and it was one of my favorite clubs in its brief existence, where I saw bands such as 7 Year Bitch, The Gits, Wayne Horvitz and Pigpen, Vexed, and Imij. They also had a DJ dance night called something like the Lemon Lounge, which was I believe my introduction to acid jazz. Lots of good memories.

None of this has anything to do with what I'm about to write about, which is my recent trip to Crooked River Ranch with my family, except for the theme of memory and the metaphor of the weathered wall. My family's house at CRR is on the rim of the Crooked River Canyon, which is cut through layers and layers basalt resulting from centuries of lava flows that happened thousands of years ago. Nothing like geology to make you feel like a blip in both spatial and temporal scheme of things. The basalt formations, including the walls of the canyon, are one of the most striking features of the area. They are weathered, just as are all the members of my family, excluding the youngest, my great niece Celine, who is still pretty fresh to the world at five willful years old.

We celebrated three milestones while I was there: my brother's impending retirement from Hewlett-Packard, where he has worked for over thirty years (his special dinner was crab louie); my impending retirement from the University of Washington, where I worked for 27 years (my special dinner was T-bone steaks --a favorite cut when I was a child); and my niece's 40th birthday (crepes for breakfast and home made chocolate chip mint ice dream after dinner). My niece was born pretty near the bicentennial birthday of the USA, so I guess we were also celebrating the country's 240th birthday. All of these milestones have a theme of aging in common, although mine has an added subtext of illness, of course. Age and illness are both part of the human weathering process. It's also interesting that both my sister and brother worked in one place for at least 30 years (for my sister it was the Salem School District in Oregon), and I would have made it if it hadn't been for those pesky cancer cells. Something in our family (or at least the three kids, because it wasn't true of our father) ran toward sticking in one job for as long as possible. Why was that?

2016-08-25 The log house.jpg
The log house


We've been taking vacations at Crooked River since my dad joined the sales team out there in the early '70s to supplement his teaching income during the summers. The Crooked River Ranch was developed by a businessman from Seattle, and one of the interesting things about it is that, unlike most resorts in the Central Oregon area near Bend, such as Sun River and Black Butte, it was aimed at working class customers. So it's a lower rent kind of place, with lots of trailers and double-wides on the lots, and businesses cluttering the benchland in the middle of the picturesque canyon, making the adjective questionable. (The canyon was halfway filled with lava at one point, then the river cut a smaller canyon into that fresh basalt, so there's two levels to the canyon.) My parents' log house is by no means low rent, and there are a lot of nice places around too, but the overriding impression when you drive around the ranch is not of wealth.

In any event, we have a lot of history out there, and a lot of good memories. It was great to spend an extended time with my family, being pampered by all of them. My family has always been close, but in the aftermath of my diagnosis, they've formed a protective circle around me that I find difficult to describe. LaVelle even drove up to Seattle and learned how to apply transducer arrays, and then drove me all the way (six hours) to CRR via Highway 97 (one of my favorite drives) so that we could bring the Optune along. Lonnie drove me home. My illness was the source of much conversation, of course. Little Celine kept telling me she was sorry I had bumped my head. I guess the transducer arrays looked like bandages to her.

But it's not always so easy to talk about my illness. When my brother got together with a couple of old college buddies to celebrate his retirement, we picked up Tom on the way to the pub, and when he got in the car, he started in on a non-stop barrage of very aggressive, foul-mouthed story telling about another friend of theirs. I know Tom is a motormouth and a great bullshitter, but he was so intense that my initial reaction was, "Will he never shut up?!!!" Lonnie and I talked about it later, and we agreed that he probably just didn't know what to say to me about what I've been going through. Later, after we met up with Steve, Tom seemed to calm down, and he and I even talked about my treatment a bit. I showed off the transducer arrays briefly.

2016-08-25 Foco and Janego.jpg
Tom, Lonnie, Steve, and Me at Three Creek Brewing in Sisters


I have to admit that the evening of the retirment party for me, I also got teary-eyed when I was thinking about it earlier in the day, because this is certainly not how I would have chosen to retire. It almost felt like a celebration of the cancer in some weird way, but that was just my perverse mood, I suspect. My sister also picked up a plastic skeleton to use for a Halloween decoration, and I became morbidly obsessed with the skeleton. I tend to be pretty sanguine about my fate from day to day, but clearly there's some anxiety percolating away in the inner depths. Maybe because the protectiveness of my family brings out a feeling of vulnerability, I came away from the vacation feeling more torn up than I generally do in my day-to-day life in Seattle, where I feel safe in my routines, as disrupted as they've been by treatment.

2016-08-25 Me and Mr Bones.jpg
Mr Bones and I share a morbid moment with my new tie-dyed t-shirt


At one point talk turned to my recent writing, and my niece, I think it was, suggested that I should write a memoir. This is appealing to me, because, narcissist that I am, my favorite thing to write about is myself, but at the same time it seems to me that my life has been so unremarkable and unextraordinary and aimless, there's not much there to interest anyone but those closest to me. Still, I want to focus on my writing as much as possible, and there's a lot of material in this LiveJournal, for example, that I could exploit for the purpose of a memoir, so I'll give the idea further thought. The only other idea I've had is to return to "Little Dog Talk," which is a story I conceived based on my experiences on Yap as a child and as an adult and also based on some of the stories I've heard about Yapese magic and mythology. I wrote a version of it under a different title many years ago and even workshopped it at a Taste of Clarion workshop at Potlatch (where Ursula Le Guin administered a chastening critique), and I've been rewriting it in my head ever since.

Although I felt like I slept a whole hell of a lot during the eight days I was down there, I did get in four hikes, including two down to the river, which involved steep inclines that were a bit of a challenge to my knackered stamina. Well worth it, however, to sit and listen to the river seeking its level and to enjoy the cool air and vibrant greenery. More worryingly, I've recently developed symptoms in my left shoulder that feel very similar indeed to what turned out to be rotator cuff tendinitis in my right shoulder a couple of years ago. I probably should have it checked out, although the idea of doing physical therapy while I'm still undergoing chemo is daunting. Something to talk to the oncologists about, I suppose. My next consultation is tomorrow.

2016-08-21 The quilting frame.jpg
Mom and LaVelle baste the quilt, while my niece and great niece play underneath (LaVelle and a lot of my female cousins could remember being the girls playing under the quilt years ago)


Of course this is all me, me, me, and I haven't gotten into any stories about Celine or about the quilt that my Mom is making for her and was working on the whole time we were out there. There's nothing about my dad's improved health or the health problems my mom's been having. Nothing about my niece's new commercial photography gig with a clothing company in Portland. Nothing about the ongoing sagas of my nephews' attempts to reach the next stage of adulthood, most of which aren't really my stories to share anyway. But should they go into a memoir? One of my challenges would be how to handle the stories that would potentially embarrass me or others. Of course, those stories are in many ways the most fascinating stories of all. Am I up to the challenge of finding a way to tell them with sensitivity and compassion?

I return to Seattle feeling more unsure of myself than when I left, which is a little irritating, because it makes me feel young and immature. I'd prefer to be more of a weathered wall myself, shaped by what I've been through but able to withstand the forces buffeting me. Maybe now's the time to embrace the sign I saw at Seattle Coffee Company today: Vulnerability Is Your Superpower.

2016-08-27 Basalt layers.jpg
The weathered wall

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
holyoutlaw
Aug. 31st, 2016 02:53 am (UTC)
Well, I like your writing quite a bit, and would read your memoir.

It's not just what you went and did, but also the intellectual journey -- how did you get to where you are and what were your thoughts and decisions along the way?

When I've thought of writing a memoir, I've thought of 1968, when I was 11. It's not so much what I did that year, but it was such an epochal year for the world. Could I encapsulate it in the life and experiences of an 11 year old Catholic boy in Chicago?
randy_byers
Aug. 31st, 2016 04:18 am (UTC)
You probably could. Have you written anything about 1968 before? I know you've told me about the tanks rolling in the streets.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2016 02:32 pm (UTC)
Strange. I really found your post thought-provoking - it sounds like a great way to spend a week, Randy. But the use of the word "baste" catapulted me back to my childhood years and the garments I learned to sew. In the last 40 years I've only used that word in cooking.
Pat C
randy_byers
Aug. 31st, 2016 03:39 pm (UTC)
Believe me, the concept of "basting the quilt" (especially as it involved batting) provoked some jokes in our household. However, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary gives as it's top definition: "to sew with long loose stitches in order to hold something in place temporarily." New word for me, even if it's also an old one.
gerisullivan
Sep. 14th, 2016 03:14 am (UTC)
I missed this post until now. Looking at the date, I was probably still sleeping following my return from Kansas City. How is it that so much of what you write resonates so strongly with my own (and pretty much entirely different) experiences?

For example, your weathered wall metaphor and returning to Seattle more unsure of yourself matches my at-con experience in Kansas City. I thought I was that weathered wall, that the expertise that comes from experience would both shield me and see me through the rough realities of this particular Worldcon in fairly good cheer. Instead, I spent far too much of the convention pissed off and petulant about it. In turn, that diminished rather than magnified my friends' enjoyment of the event, which only made me mad at myself on top of my anger at issues/problems/challenges that were utterly predictable and shouldn't have affected me nearly as much as they did.

Several times since returning, I've said "I took more damage than I was prepared to, and I'm working on recovering from that." I was so confident of my weathered wall, completely neglecting to consider and anticipate the fact that sometimes massive chunks of the rock face loosen and loudly crash on the ground below.

(Fortunately, there also were joys and amusements in each day, and the road trips there and back again contained stretches of the sublime.)

"Of course this is all me, me, me,..." Oops. Guilty.

I am utterly confident that you are completely up to the challenge of telling the most embarrassing/fascinating stories "with sensitivity and compassion." You keep demonstrating it in your personal essay/memoir posts here. I have more than a bit to say about the whole "telling other people's stories" question and related matters of legitimacy, respect, and the sheer honor and gift involved with doing it well. All things I learned from studying and learning from the path you so brilliantly forged, I might add.

So. Anyway. Bottom line? Do it! Please, please do it.



randy_byers
Sep. 14th, 2016 03:32 am (UTC)
Thanks, Geri. My experience working on a Worldcon last year left me wondering what it is that those of you who do it over and over again get out of the experience. Sorry to hear that Kansas City was such a trial for you, but I can't imagine how any wall can be so weathered that it doesn't feel the turmoil inevitably swirling around running that nine ring circus. I suppose people do it for egoboo, just like any other fanac, but I suspect being a bit of a masochist is also a requirement.

In any event, it looks like you *are* about to have a good time, so you better get to it.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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