Saturday, October 29, 2011

Skywriting Witches

Traffic on I-495
A pop-quiz for old timers in the DC area: Do you remember what the graffiti on the overpass right near the Connecticut Ave exit used to say?

Yes, that's right, Wizard of Oz fans. It said:

"Surrender Dorothy"

The Mormon Temple does looks a wee bit like the Emerald City.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zombies! in Silver Spring

Zombies on the move.
Despite spending most of yesterday feeling like a zombie myself, sleeping and gargling with salt water, I mustered for the ardurous (5 minute) journey to witness the Silver Spring Zombie Walk

Complete with dry ice fog along the main route, creepy funny 80s synth retro music and traffic signs that warned, "Zombies Ahead," "This is NOT a drill!" and "Hide Your Brains," the zombie parade has grown every year since its inception four years ago. 
Zombies don't photograph as
themselves on camera phones.

Popular zombie costumes included flannel-wearing farmers, beauty queens, brides, and military personnel with faux water guns that undoubtedly made the large police presence there twitchy. More exotic garb such as Where's Waldo and Colonel Sanders made more indivdual zombie fashion statements. Always political, this year some zombies carried Occupy signs ("Occupy My Brain").  

Zombies are family-friendly. I passed the same zombie mother several times carrying her two or so year old kid (also zombified) and each time, she growled at me. Later I saw a crowd of zombies and babies stopping in at Starbucks for a java break (being undead can be wearing -- a little caffeine keeps your stagger perky and your groan ghoulish). 

At a stop light, several zombies knocked on the glass of a shiny Lexus, inspiring the nervous smile on the driver within. Drivers caught unaware of the event spent some time waiting for the undead to stumble by. Zombies mid brain snack are not to be rushed in their evening constitutional. 

Zombie pile by AFI

Many zombies ended the evening at the AFI theater for a showing of "Dead Snow," a Norwegian zombie movie featuring zombie Nazis.  I suspect some returned to the bars from whence they came, warming their rotting corpses before the walk.  A fair portion of zombies smelled more of beer and cigarettes than decaying flesh. 

The photos turned out less than fabulous (shaky hands in the dark), but they give you a flavor of this fine event.

Zombie having an idea. I'm pretty sure
I've danced with him before.
Zombies like huge fluffy white dogs

Hide your brains!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Giraffe Chat

Today, I woke up thinking about Chorkies, a breed Neil claims is a mix of bok choy and turkeys, but is actually a cross between Yorkies and Chihuahuas.

And now, let's eavesdrop on giraffes. 

Gigi: Mon Dieu. Girard, you've grown up.  We'll have to find you a tall girl, and soon.

Girard: I can see you're having some trouble reaching that leaf.  Let me get it for you, Gigi. [pulls a branch down and passes it to her] A pleasure to see you again. 

Gigi: [chewing] Very kind, Girard.

Girard:  May I say, your tongue is a lovely shade of black today?

Gigi:[stops chewing] Girard? [starts chewing again] Good heavens. I was a calf with your mother. 

Girard: [stretching his neck to reach the highest leaf] Just an observation. You know I've always remembered the way you looked that day you killed the lion, that power hoof to his chest. Fierce. 

Gigi: [ ... ]

Girard: Do you know that some humans thought we were a cross between camels and leopards?

Gigi: Ha! As if my spots were that tiny! Sasha would love that.  You should tell her that.

Girard: [chewing, looking away over the savanna] I'd rather tell you. 

Gigi: Oh Girard. You and your prehensile tongue. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Airy Airport Design: Washington National Airport

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport provides a fine example of art in public spaces.  Airy, inviting, and (useful for those with canceled connections) calming. The expansion of 1997 was designed by César Pelli. 

Fun fact gleaned from wikipedia: "Hoover Field, near the present site of the Pentagon, was the first major terminal to be developed in the Capital area, opening its doors in 1926. The facility's single runway was intersected by a local street; guards had to stop automobile traffic during takeoffs and landings."

Cathedral-esque ceiling

Window detail in main hallway, Terminal B/C

Window frames

Self portrait, moving walkway

Walkway to Terminal A
The old terminal, Terminal A, closed to gear up for a
private event (hence the balloons)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Art is Lunging Forward

"Art is lunging forward without certainty about where you are going or how to get there, being open to and dependent on what luck, the paint, the typo, the dissonance give you. Without art you're stuck with yourself as you are and life as you think life is."
-- Mark Vonnegut

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Last week, I learned that the friend of a friend had taken his own life. 

In the middle of rush hour traffic, he stopped his car on a bridge, and according to an eyewitness account, without hesitation, climbed the rail and jumped. 

The news traveled quickly from his city out west to me in the east. Without the secrecy and shame that so often imprisons the mere mention of suicide, his friends relayed news of his death honestly. As I checked in with people I knew cared for him to offer my condolences, I was told he was depressed to an extent that he vibrated with that agony. He was ill and it finally killed him.   

My direct connection to the man on the bridge was slim. I borrowed his couch for a few months when I lived in his city and when I left town, he reclaimed it. He was kind enough to donate and move furniture for a newcomer. Maybe I chatted with him at one gathering or another, but I don't have any specific memories of that. I remembered his name and his face enough to know I'd met him and napped on that pink couch.

I can't speak to the details of his life. The people that knew and loved him and are grieving his absence can speak to the enormity of his loss, and surely have been over this sad week.

I find that I continue to think about him on that bridge.

I keep imagining the one moment when he was sitting in his car on the bridge -- maybe having planned well in advance, maybe discovering the idea in that moment -- and when the idea flipped into motion. I think about his hand reaching for the car key and then the door handle of the car.

However many times he had contained the impulse for an ending, that day on the bridge, he acted on it.  He did not choose any of the multitude of other things that might, or might not, have eased his pain. In all likelihood, he could no longer see any of those options.  All the possibilities for him narrowed down to this one moment, this one space, this one action to take. 

I see the small steps when he could have changed his mind. He could have turned off the car -- and then restarted it and driven to safety on to the other side of the bridge. Two steps from the car, he could have turned around to get back in. He could have paused and looked down at the water, and then walking away, abandoning his car but his feet steady on pavement, walking away, and feeling the wind move his hair, listening to cars honk behind him.

None of those things happened.  He didn't hesitate, the witness said. 

I wish that I could tell him to wait.  I wish that he could have still been able to hear all the people on that bridge, in that city, out west and here out east, that would have said to him: wait. 

Easy for me to say, you say, you didn't live the way he had to, trapped in his own head, deafened by the roar of depression. 

True, I don't know what horrors played over in his mind. 

But I do know what have been in mine.

Anyone who has read through this blog has perhaps surmised by now that depression is something with which I have a more than passing familiarity.

That I am now, and have been for quite some time, in a good space, gives me the weird amnesia of wondering how it could ever have been otherwise. 

And yet, I know for a fact from hospital records from 24 years ago that I have made similar decisions to those of the man on the bridge.   

My luck, and continuing life, turned on choosing a less immediate method and strange happenchance.  I took pills and had I not spent the four days in the hospital that I did drinking a foul-tasting medicine, those pills would have left my liver irretrievably damaged.

But in my dorm that day, some anonymous, probably drunken soul, pulled the fire alarm, as had been happening off and on for weeks, much to the annoyance of the fire department who had to haul out to check for nonexistant fires. That blaring alarm roused me from my stupor, led to my discovery by a girl down the hall who wanted to borrow shoes, and set off a whole different course of events. 

I think about that man on the bridge, knowing as I do from his friends how terribly long he had felt, not just bad, not gosh,-a-rough-day bad, but a despair that hurt so much that it felt like a physical injury, a wound that constantly reopened to fresh pain.  I know that he was not an 18 year old, but decades older, and had been carrying the weight of his despair for much longer.

While we like to package up suicide as something to do with teen angst or with the physcial diminishment of old age, the statistics speak otherwise. Those age 40 to 59 are most likely kill themselves. Women are three times more likely than men to attempt.  Men, however, are four times as likely to be successful in those attempts. 

Nearly 1,000,000 people a year attempt suicide.  And yet we continue to speak of it in hushed tones, wrap it up in a package of shame. 

I don't know the life circumstances of the man on the bridge, but I can guarantee that he tried many ways to find a path out of his depression and as each approach floundered, his hope dimmed further.  I know it got harder for him to try, to believe anything could change for him.  I know about downward spirals that suck you in, turning you faster and faster in tighter and smaller circles.

I want to tell the man on the bridge, or anyone who feels as he did and I have, to wait. 

Something you haven't seen yet, something you haven't felt in a long time, may bring you back.

You may, for no reason at all, wake up and feel good one day.  Maybe there is a therapist or a drug or a religion or a book or a friend or an exercise or a trip or a lover or a dog or a clear glacial lake that will give you back that wonder, that awe, that lost, distant gratitude.

Maybe it won't last -- but then again, maybe it will.  Maybe it will start a spiral in the other direction, opening you out to the world.

Sylvia Plath, before her death by suicide, wrote in the poem "Black Rook in Rainy Weather":

A certain minor light may still/ Leap incandescent / Out of kitchen table or chair / As if a celestial burning took / Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then - / Thus hallowing an interval /Otherwise inconsequent / By bestowing largesse, honor / One might say love.

The man on the bridge could no longer wait for that incandescent light and now he is gone.  I hope he is enveloped in a peace he couldn't find here.

He leaves behind a crew of friends in shock, friends he once believed he could never do this to.  Obituaries use the term "survived by" and that seems apt; the living are still scrabbling, still finding hope and meaning and joy, still waiting for the good to come around, can still see the good when it arrives.

These friends have to deal with his death in the complicated aftermath of suicide, a tragedy that, even though the death is the culmination of a losing battle with illness, feels preventable in a way that cancer doesn't.

While the stigma of mental illness has lessened to some degree in the last twenty years, suicidal thoughts, gestures, attempts and deaths still tend to get hidden away, spoken of obliquely. Old uncle Alvin was "just cleaning his gun" when it went off.  Aunt Bessie had a case of the nerves and had to go away for a little while. Little Lacey tripped at the top of the mountaintop.

A decade ago, it took a friend of mine months to piece together that his friend in another country had actually killed himself and that his family chose instead to spin it as an accident, his pills magically morphing into a much more socially acceptable car accident.

I wonder about the wisdom of making my history public here. Suicide attempts give you a record, and so from a mental health perspective, I'm a felon, no matter how reformed I am, no matter how I paid my debt to society and myself, no matter the dumb luck that let me survive and flourish. I'm marked by my own statistical tattoo that having attempted, I am more likely than those who have not to eventually die by suicide. 

I think about the nature of secrecy though, and the more I do, the more I think that's what leads us, any of us, when our lives spin out of control, to be standing on a bridge, isolated by our thoughts. 

The man on the bridge is out of reach.  You can't undo death.

For me, and for anyone alive and reading this, all the possibilities are still out there. For this, I am immensely grateful.

I wish the man on the bridge could have experienced that.

Incandescent Light

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Very Big Bird

A very big bird or a very small fisherman?

Perspective is always tricky.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Great Falls, Virginia
As I sped along the beltway over the American Legion Bridge on Saturday morning, I drove through layers of fog rolling up from the water. The mist moved in waving columns like smoke, bringing with it a reminder that beneath city concrete, running waters and swirling temperatures create their own languid, chaotic beauty.

The watery fog burned off quickly enough, leaving a blue sky autumn day, perfect. I hiked through Scott's Run Nature Preserve with my friend. While she had appointments to keep with the smallest member of her family, I stretched the day out in the sun. I drove down the windy roads of Great Falls and parked by the Potomac at River Bend Park.  I found my way south on the trails there, wending my way into Great Falls Park.

As I walked by the river, the sun caught the angles of the water, flashed beams of light upwards through leaves turning them a spring-like green.  I relished this deception, the strength of light undermining a view of the true season.

Sunlit leaves
October is an in-between time, a transition. A week of rain can be followed by cloudless skies and skin-warming sun. Chilly, foggy mornings blossom to the blue sky of midday.

But we know what is coming.

Trees lack the bushy overload of leaves as some have already yellowed and fallen, crackle brown underfoot. While the shapes of those trees have not yet deflated to the bald skeletons of later season, the thinning exposes gaps of distance between the branches. We can see deeper into the woods where winter is waiting for us.

Our bodies feel the shift. Having rounded the fall equinox, the light disappears quickly now. We sleep more heavily for longer and eat heartily to prepare for the hibernation. For the last few weeks, I have looked up at my apartment windows in the evening and been surprised to find them already dark. In the mornings, I fire up my blue light box to trick testy circadian rhythms into believing the days haven't shrunk so short, a sleight of hand that gets them, and me, through the dark season. 

As a middle-aged woman walking by the river on a middle-aged day -- healthy, active still, blue sky, sunshine -- the chill and mist of the morning stuck to me. It's hard to know when a course correction is called for and when the seasons are simply changing as they must. It's hard not to wonder if I squandered spring, although pointless given my inability to change what has already passed.

I want to make the most of October, both the perfect days and those of endless drizzle. 

So I go to the river.

I grew up by the Potomac. I played in a creek by my childhood home that probably, through some circuitous route, drains into the same watershed.

Kennedy Center at dusk

In elementary school, I have a distinct memory of bouncing a super ball off the balcony of the Kennedy Center and watching it sail over a wall. I imagine it bobbing and floating down that river and out to sea, inadvertent toy pollution.

In high school, I sat with my legs dangling off walls, chain smoking cigarettes in Georgetown while looking out over that river at a time when the pollution level left it just shy of Cuyahoga levels of flammability.

A decade later, I trained for a marathon running on the C & O Canal towpath.

I've lived in ten other states, but many visits back here led me back to a walk by Riley's Lock. I always circle back to water. 

Why is that important?

I don't know.
Fog, Sugarloaf Mountain

The river feels like useful detail of some unclear larger story, and so I make note of it. 

Ruminations on fog and rivers, water in movement, hint at transforming and yet somehow staying, at core, essentially the same.

The fog still appears if the ingredients mix well, obscuring and illuminating the view with its caprice. Waters flow. Winter is coming, and when it does, I'll still delight in the caress of sunshine warming my skin. 

Monday, October 3, 2011


One down side arising from a decision to decline a job offer is less reason to visit this sculpture near the office space. Luscious lips, spirals, and fountains are elements of "Promenade Classique," an installation that features faux ruins and appealing, watery symmetry. 

Artists: Sculptors: Anne and Patrick Poirier; Landscape Architect: Paul Friedberg
Location: Canal Center Plaza and Waterfront, Alexandria

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Melted Cheese, Pumpkins and Sugarloaf in the Rain

My friends and I, standing in relentless rain and increasing cold at our agreed-upon meeting place at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, decided a hike uphill didn't hold the same appeal as, say, a Gruyère grilled cheese sandwich and ginger squash cream soup at the Comus Inn. With thoughts of waiting out the rain, we relocated to a warmer clime, ate well, and lingered laughing over coffee. 

After lunch, we crossed the street to visit the pumpkin patch. Pumpkin colors included a vibrant reddish-orange and pale blue. Wild. What would Linus and the Great Pumpkin say?  

With rain showing no sign of letting up, we parted ways. Typically, I merrily raced off in the wrong direction despite my GPS; its directions only work if you actually look at the screen.

I found myself back at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. After some curiosity driving and a promising pause in the weather, I ended up parking my car -- just as the rain started up again.  I sloshed my way up the rest of the mountain, up stone stairs and through reflecting pool puddles, proving once again that I don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain. 

I returned home cold and soaked, but well-fed by good food, great friends, and foggy vistas.