“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
ONE: MONDAY MORNINGS AT LA PUSH
There was a way I behaved for the first decade I visited La Push: I would rise early before everyone else, pull on my running tights, lace up my sneakers and tumble out onto the empty beach and run.
I used to be a runner.
I’d negotiate up, over and around any driftwood in my way, plod awkwardly through the soft, dry sand and get as close to the water as possible so I’d have a firmer surface to run on. The beach at La Push isn’t steep, but it’s not exactly level either. I’d head off towards the south end of the shore first, the whirring wind and crashing waves creating my own noise-canceling headphones with their constant, ambient drone. Closing off and going within, eyes barely open, ignoring the sharp ache in my left hip from running on the lopsided sand. I’d arrive at the towering cliffside just long enough to touch the sacred stones as if handing off the baton in a relay and turn and head north. With the wind at my back now and fully warmed up, in this direction I felt stronger and faster and withdrew even deeper. Numb. More numb. Numbest. As the other end of the beach approached, a feeling of victory emerged. Validation. Proven. Earned. Pausing just long enough to tap one of the black boulders that line the jetty on the north side, I’d cool down with a slow jog back towards the cabin and slog through the deep, soft sand and feel sensation returning to my lungs and hips. Familiar ache replacing the comfort of numb.
Now, I wonder what I missed all those years.
Last Monday morning at La Push I didn’t rise early to run but I rose early to venture out at low tide to see what I could see. It was damp and chilly–47 degrees–and overcast with the clouds so low they appeared to touch the sand. My feet were strapped into my Teva sandals, rather than sneakers, so that I could readily splash through the creek that dissects the beach and empties into the ocean. I met my friend and we set off, uncaffeinated and groggy. Soon, my toes were frozen icy pink with smooth, tiny pebbles lodged under my heel and instep. I didn’t ignore the discomfort but instead stopped to shake the rocks from my soles and rub my toes before continuing on. One, singular other human graced the shoreline that Monday morning–a fisherwoman, her line in the water, patiently waiting for a bite. She smiled and said hello.
As we approached the majestic rock face, I slowed down even more and took in a long, deep breath of salty air. Feel that? I asked my friend. That’s spirit. There’s a heaviness that exists on that end of the shore that is palpable and real, at least to me. My friend nodded in an effort to appease me and scampered off to climb the rocks, looking for tide pools and starfish. I stayed back and looked up, as I often do at this end of the beach, to gaze at the cliffside lined with ancient, tall trees draped in fringy moss. I imagined bear and cougar perched at the edge, surveying the shore. Circling high above the tree tops, four eagles emerged. I watched as they soared and glided with grace and power and felt their sharp eyes on me. My friend came back from the rocks and I told him how I believed the eagles were tribal elders and chiefs, making sure all was well on their sacred land. He told me he thought the eagles were looking for food. I like to think we both were right.
Later that Monday, toes thawed and warm, I ventured out to the beach again. It was early afternoon and the sun had burned off the gray, leaving an expanse of blue sky streaked with pulled-cotton clouds. I looked left, then right and not another soul was on the sand. Mondays at La Push are often like that. The standard bustle of Sunday afternoons as cabin dwellers pack up and head back to civilization before the start of another work week always makes me feel privileged to stay another day. This Monday afternoon the ocean had taken on a complex shade of turquoise that morphed from green-blue to blue-green depending on its depth and churn. Driftwood logs and roots created picture-perfect frames of James Island and the surf, so I paused time and time again to snap a photo here and then there. I found a worn, rough stick, just right for an improvised hiking pole and made my way higher up on the beach, exploring nooks and crannies. Impromptu forts fashioned from weathered logs, long tossed from hefty waves in a storm. Cairns of smooth, flat stones, precisely built and balanced, hidden in open knotholes. I looked for water spouts in the nearby surf, signs of a whale friend I had watched just offshore the previous day.
Looking up. Looking down. Heaven and earth. Horizon and beyond.
My friend joined me after awhile and together we sat on smooth driftwood and marveled at our good fortune to be the only ones at this place on this day at this time.
Not numb, but fully feeling. No hurry, but slowing down. Not missing a thing, but paying wide-eyed attention, filled with wonder. No running away or even towards, but instead sitting in stillness. Here and now. Peace–real peace–abides in the present.
I used to be a runner. But now I’ve slowed down.
I don’t want to miss a thing.
TWO: DRAG QUEENS
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~ Rumi
I really love drag queens.
I can’t tell you exactly how it came about, but sometime after my last birthday, I declared that I wanted to go to a drag show for my next.
It was my college-aged daughter who had just regaled me with a story of her and her pals going to a Seattle nightclub that had an 18+ college night that included a weekly drag show. When I realized my birthday landed on that very night of the week, my birthday celebration was planned.
A sushi dinner with close friends and The Mister, birthday cupcakes from Cupcake Royale, drinks at The Comet and then on to Neighbours Nightclub for the queens. I love Capitol Hill in Seattle. Even on a Wednesday evening the neighborhood is alive and bursting with color and sound. Urban vibrancy. There is an ease I feel in the city, especially in this neck of the woods where tolerance reigns. We enter from a back alleyway, get scanned with a metal detector and walk into a nearly-empty club. My daughter and her pals aren’t there yet, so we head upstairs for drinks and a game of pool. Music pulses with urban house beats and I dance and twirl my pool stick, sipping my whiskey, so happy to be in this place at this time.
Once my daughter and her squad arrive, we move downstairs. A couple of scantily-clad male go-go dancers gyrate on a platform and move through the growing crowd. My friend, a self-proclaimed dancing queen herself, smiles with pure contentment as one of the dancers shimmies up behind her and together they dance, in sync and immersed in the music. Soon, the queens begin to arrive and anticipation is thick and buzzes through the room.
I’ve grown to understand my need to witness and be around artists who are unabashedly and authentically real. As a writer, I need that regular reminder that walls and pretense have no place in the creation of art and self-expression. It’s a lesson I came late to learn and one that bears repeating.
This is why I love drag queens.
Adorned in a glamorous, pink chiffon floor-length gown that I imagined Eartha Kitt once wore, our mistress of ceremonies took the stage. Appropriately cheeky and irreverent, she entertained as she introduced each queen. Each one, impeccably costumed and rehearsed, strode onto the stage in stilettos I could only dream of teetering in. Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Marina and the Diamonds were all represented in their lip sync routines that were meticulously choreographed and executed. Fans in the crowd cheered and applauded each one as they interacted with the audience, gathering dollar bills as they made their way back to the stage for their grand finish and bow.
And me, the entire time, grinning ear-to-ear, asking my friends over and over again, why do I love this so much?
Drag queens are not clowns or freaks, nor are they there to be laughed at. They are true entertainers, artists and individuals in the most beautiful, stunning and inspirational way.
There is real magic when you surround yourself with others who are comfortable in their own skin. This year, this birthday, I needed a bit of that magic.
THREE: TOUCH ME
“Maybe you’ve had skin next to your skin, but when was the last time you let yourself be touched?” ~ Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters
I love having my face stroked. If you want something from me, massage my head. For my birthday, I booked myself a facial.
Mariposa Day Spa is a gem of place, tucked downstairs on a lower level from the busy, antique-filled First Street in downtown Snohomish. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and just stumbled upon this spot last year. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention.
Everyone at the spa speaks in hushed, whispered voices. With all the treatment rooms separated only by curtains, it is as much of a courtesy to the other clients as it is a draw for me and my ASMR tendencies.
ASMR is an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. In short, I get full-body shivers and tingles from certain sounds and colors. I’ve had it all my life, but it wasn’t until I heard this episode of This American Life that I realized I was not alone.
China teacups clinking on saucers.
Horse’s teeth chewing their bridle bit.
The squeak of a leather English saddle when riding.
Car wheels on a gravel road.
All these sounds give me the most wonderful shivers down my spine. Some colors, too–the combination of pink and yellow, the deepest, richest purple, the sky-blue shade of my best friend’s Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike when we were teenagers.
I lay on the warm treatment table under a cozy blanket. Soft, soothing, ambient music pipes in. I close my eyes and the esthetician arrives, waving lavender oil under my nose and tells me to inhale. From that point on, I am putty. Warm towels wrap my face, the satisfying clink of jar tops being screwed and unscrewed and lovely, creamy potions spread over my skin. Steam then mist then the clatter of hot stones taken from their water bath and spread over my shoulders. More creams, more strokes, the flick of a towel, hand massage, foot massage and a final, swoon-worthy scalp massage.
It’s so important to allow ourselves to receive the healing power of touch the esthetician whispers to me as she finishes and leaves me to absorb the final moments of bliss. Tears pool in the corners of my eyes.
Yes, it is.