Seattle was lovely—the coffee rich and hot, the sky blue, water water everywhere, and the library a bonefide future glass building that gave both inspiration and vertigo. The Seattle Art Museum is revived and very recently re-opened; I think the wine glasses we drank from came straight out of the box. Josh came along to the SAM, where I stood in front of a Native American piece that referenced Three Sisters, and, smiling just a little bit, I thought of this line from Thin Blue Flame:
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land
It comes in that earthly-ethereal, Elysian final verse . . . and for months now I’ve been luxuriating in the imagery, thinking, “All that . . . and Chekhov too?”** I suppose heaven is what we make it—surely one message in Thin Blue Flame—and I’d gone and pulled out a chair for that fine writer. Oh well, he can come anyway. Something tells me Josh won’t mind.* And, yes, I’m ignorant about Native American agricultural history. It won’t be the last thing I get wrong about these songs; they’re complicated and weird (high praise in my book), and that’s part of the reason we’re here.
So now I’m home and packing to move. On Saturday I had an impromptu meeting and shaking-of-hands with the gentleman and father of four who paid $3.2M for this gorgeous building that was home to around fourteen people and ten apartments. He was showing his shy, smiling parents the boiler room, speaking in Italian. I introduced myself and asked whether they’d like to step into my humble place (surely destined to become the wine cellar, the maid’s quarters, or the laundry room).
He was gracious and humble, with kind eyes, and despite my ambivalence about moving away I could muster no animosity. Instead I burbled about how my years here had been so special, how I had considered writing a letter to the new owner and leaving it in the Ernest Hemingway fold-down desk. It felt a bit silly to congratulate someone on the cash purchase of a $3.2M home in possibly the most beautiful part of the city, and certainly I did not calm any fears by giving my assurances of how much they would enjoy the neighborhood, but congratulate and assure I did. He seemed genuinely grateful, and, as I said, kind. He said goodbye, I shut the door behind him, and I gave the wall a little pat. Phew.
One inevitably thinks about the coming in the planning for the leaving, and I will be forever mindful that I arrived here with a broken—no, a mangled heart. And now I leave with a mended one, even if there are some scars. It took just shy of two years. This little place under the sidewalk was here waiting on the nights I felt so bereft and so betrayed by the still-turning world—so low—that my homeward footsteps slowed and I, feeling unequal to one more, considered lying down on the sidewalk’s cold concrete. This home and its fickle oven hosted last summer’s baking school, when Sunday afternoons were reserved for the playing of classical music and the mastering of quickbreads, muffins, pies, cobblers, cookies, and cakes.
It cooperated when learning to cook took over in the fall, and my father and I spent a weekend hunting studs in the wall—him, drill pulsing, cursing old buildings’ basements and the things that lurk in their walls—in order to mount a pot rack. Those same walls did not sigh when I repeatedly reconfigured the furniture and moved decorations, learning to listen to its space and successfully making it my home, and one—my first—that I loved. Its inlaid bookcases handsomely supported my acres of books.
It opened its hobbit-sized door to Grief and we sat and gazed at it together, turning it round, memorizing all sides, and I cried, and cried and cried into its silence, determined to put in my time, hoping each honest encounter would be the last. It welcomed me home late at night during the harried months when I socialized and volunteered like a hamster on a wheel, booking some engagement nearly every night so I’d fall into bed too tired to think. It stayed up while I learned about investing </yawn> so I could invest the money I’d saved and exile anxiety about financial independence. It was screening theatre to Scorsese’s No Direction Home, which I watched each time it aired last autumn, the sight of a young brilliant Bob Dylan staring blankly out making me weep for reasons that weren’t clear. Yet. It was concert hall for Dylan and Josh Ritter, whose music I played incessantly through the winter and spring. It was sounding board for those first strange, spontaneous laughs—at the TV, at Josh’s lyrics—and later, the hilarity that sometimes ensued when visiting with friends.
This “studio plus” didn’t judge when I scrawled the sad and bitterly triumphant last verse of Bob Dylan’s Idiot Wind on my whiteboard (changing letters to emails), even if my brother did, after beholding it with furrowed brow, laughingly suggest I take it down before inviting anyone else inside. It was reading room to numerous books that kept me company and led me back to warm wonder at the world. It witnessed the deepening of my most cherished friendships and put in motion a resolution to be a fine hostess, one whose home says Drop-Ins Welcome. It kept the light on and nudged me, like a mother bird, out the door when I ventured out on a first date that might as well have been the first ever.
It was a portal of prayer.
Lest I sleep too soundly its radiators clanged in the small hours of the winter nights. Its wonky windows swelled in the rain and even then couldn’t keep out the city’s dirt. The hot water failed on the mornings of some very important meetings, and the drains served up absolutely monstrous centipedes every once in awhile. And its charms shrunk away with the rest during some very lonesome times. But it gave me the space and the silence in which to write in a way I hadn’t before—and writing began teaching me all kinds of things that I hope will never stop.
There’s a line in Thin Blue Flame that goes
The future glass buildings and the past an address
There are, of course, numberless ways to talk about Thin Blue Flame, numerous things to explore. There are tiny phrases of precious gem that give way to panoramic themes. Lately I’ve been thinking about The past an address, thinking how much it says in how little, and how it captures a courageous approach to and respect for history—political and personal. (The politics in Thin Blue Flame can’t be denied: one gets the idea Josh will rejoice when 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is one folksy frat boy’s past address.)
The past an address says sometimes it’s time to pack the U-Haul and set out for new beginnings. It says, don’t worry, it will still be be there—no bull dozers, please—and you’re welcome to drop in when you need to, to sit in the garden and remember when, to wiggle your toes in the fountain, to tear up the floorboards for time capsules and corpses, to resurrect and reinterpret heroes and villains. To revisit and rethink or even revise.
The past an address says But we don’t live there anymore. It was splendid for awhile, but we never quite fixed the electrical problem; we didn’t think the new boiler was worth the expense. We made some lovely memories. We healed some wounds. We made some terrible mistakes. It was time, so we’ve gone down to the post office and arranged for the forwarding of mail. You’ll find us striking out somewhere new, somewhere with space enough for all our new ideas.
And for the future.
Next: River days
**I’ve just remembered (vaguely) that the notion of going to Moscow (Russia) as escape from the family’s stagnation and failure in the country figures largely in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Moscow, Idaho, you may know, is Josh Ritter’s hometown and perhaps the setting of that final verse of Thin Blue Flame.
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land