I work from home, and it’s tempting to work all the time. We’ve all been told that more effort leads to more results—your nose should be to the grindstone at all times if you want to succeed. Recent studies have challenged this notion, and I’ve found that if I take time to recharge my batteries I can get more done in less time. My creativity is better, my mood is better, and I get more done with less effort.

Friday I recharged by going to museums. I went to the Henry art museum. The main gallery was closed for installation, but I was able to see some smaller exhibits. It was the usual mixture—some of it I really liked, but other things seemed a bit too ethereal to grasp. I look forward to going back and seeing the main gallery—the upcoming show looks incredible. I also really enjoyed the architecture—the building has some lovely vaulting.

My friend and I had time, so next we toured the Burke Museum which focuses on Natural History. I really liked it. I’m not that excited by dinosaurs, and we passed those quickly, but they’ve got a lot of incredible exhibits of cultural artifacts from the local Native American tribes and Polynesia. I want to go back with a sketchbook one of these days.

Our final stop was at the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus. This was my favorite part of the day—the library reminded me of the New York Public Library. We went to the reading room which is a cathedral of books. It looks like a church and has long lighted tables and a discernible silence. You don’t have to be a student to go, and I plan to make more pilgrimages there to sit and work in the gorgeous quiet.

I have a membership that got me into the museums, so the whole outing was accomplished with nothing more than bus fare. This was the first time I had visited any of these places, and I left full of energy and ideas. I know it was worth the time it took me to take a break from my labors, and I look forward to my next outings. Now I just have to decide where to go.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
230. Do you need to recharge your batteries? Where can you go in your town that you haven’t been? It’s time to make a date with yourself or a friend—find new places to explore or visit old favorites. You’ll be glad you did.


Places you’ve got to go

I’ve been thinking about bathrooms lately. My friend celebrated his thirty-first birthday last week, and we celebrated at a place in the Pike Place Market. The ladies’ room had been converted from past use, and there was an ornate and rather large chandelier almost touching the top of the stall doors. I was assured that the men’s room was not nearly as decorative. From what I’ve been told, it rarely is.

Today I’m going to share a few other memorable bathrooms with you. There is a Thai restaurant in Greenlake that has vases with real roses on each table. When the roses fade, they are bundled with string and placed in upside-down bunches along the bathroom walls. There are hundreds and hundreds of bunches in there, and a slight rose fragrance lingers, along with a tinge of decay. It’s meant to be charming, but I find it more than a little bit creepy.

Another Thai noodle place on Capitol Hill has a bright green bathroom. Plastic flowers and greenery are stapled to the walls. There is also a fake aquarium, a fake waterfall, and lots of pictures of fish. This would be enough of an overload, but one of the moving pictures also has a soundtrack of chirping birds. It’s like a demented aviary in there, and I could barely manage not to duck my head to avoid the imaginary birds. Quite festive, but again, a little odd.

My favorite odd bathroom of all times is in a bar in Long Island. The name and location is lost to memory, but the bar is elegant. Dark wood on the walls, light opera in the background—a classy place if every you saw one. In the ladies’ room, there is an enormous fresco of a nearly-naked Roman god, complete with a three-dimensional hinged fig leaf. I was luckily among friends when I used that bathroom—if you lift the fig leaf an alarm goes off in the bar and everyone knows you’ve done it. My friend stayed in there for half an hour when she’d made the mistake.

I love these little treasures. They are the dessert to my meal, the appetizer to my imagination. I hope you enjoy this taste.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

207. Next time you are out at a restaurant or bar, check out the bathroom. If you find something cool, share it with your friends. If you are out with a companion of the opposite gender, find out if their bathroom is similarly nifty.

I got my first stamp

Today, like many days, I am reveling in the glories of the public library. I need to tell a folktale for a speech in Toastmasters, and I found that the library has an entire section of folktales for me to choose from. It was so easy to find what I needed—I love the librarians and the work they do.

 I’m also excited by a new promotion that the library has going. In order to celebrate a bond issue that greatly expanded the library, they have created a passport which gives details about all the libraries in the system. You can go to each library and get a stamp for your book, and when you’re done, you’re eligible to enter a prize drawing.

I plan to make time for this quest. The booklet gives bus information to make the tour easy, and even if I don’t win the prizes I will have had a lovely self-guided tour of the library system. It sounds like a good deal to me, and it’s free. I can’t wait to see the modern marvels and Carnegie masterpieces, and this quest will get me into many neighborhoods in Seattle where I have not yet ventured. The library promotion will give me a better idea of our city’s geography, too, and who knows what serendipitous treasures I might find?

Libraries have always been important to me. I have memories of my parents bringing my brothers and sisters and I to the Grinnell library in Wappingers Falls, New York. It’s an ornate structure which has stood there since 1887, and it’s one of the oldest libraries in New York State. I remember choosing my books with care, hunting for the few Nancy Drew books I hadn’t yet read.

I’ve given poetry readings in converted libraries, I’ve attended writing retreats in closed libraries, and I’ve spent many hours sitting in the corners of various university libraries where I studied. I could describe at least ten of these places in great detail. My apartment, despite efforts to pare my collection, resembles a library itself. I’m looking forward to visiting my local temples of knowledge. What a joyful assignment!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

182. Think back to libraries you have known. What did you like about them? What didn’t you? Explore a nearby library that you haven’t visited.

Meet the California laurel borer

Welcome to my scrapbook. I’ve found many benefits from writing this blog on a more-or-less daily basis, and one of them is the memories I press between its virtual pages. Without this blog I might not remember some of the marvelous things I’ve seen in the ever wondrous city of Seattle.

Walking over to my inexpensive treat of chips and salsa—thank you Tacos Guaymas!—I saw a room full of hairdresser’s heads behind one of the nightclubs where the drag queens dance. Ah, what juxtaposition—these fabulous plastic heads of hair all waiting to be fussed with next to a place where some partygoers take their own fabulous and fussy hair out on the town.

Earlier I’d seen an elaborate columned archway entering into a building which seems abandoned. Ornate iron grillwork hangs above this fancy entrance. The whole thing is blocked off by fencing. I think back to when I read The Secret Garden and imagine the unseen fineries within. Does dust settle on an inlaid marble floor? Is an aging crystal chandelier a roost for pigeons which have somehow made their homes inside the building? I like to think that someone gets to dance there amidst the neglected splendor.

As I ponder this manmade beauty I also think back to today’s encounter with nature. I had just entered a downtown bank and was waiting in the seating area to ask some questions. I heard some rustling by my left ear and looked to see an enormous insect on my shoulder. I took off my jacket as quickly as I could. I didn’t know what this thing was, but it was about four inches long—no kidding!—zebra-striped and patterned, and it had feelers which were waving about. It looked like an escapee from a tropical bug exhibit. The bank employees had never seen anything like it, and we carefully escorted it to the sidewalk before doing business. I wonder who else will meet this creature today.

I love to collect these written mementos, because Seattle is constantly evolving. I love the evanescent glory of it all. Tomorrow will bring some new delight and I’ll be ready for it. Meanwhile the beetles, beehives and buzz cuts will rest in this scrapbook, untouched by the passage of time or the fresh swipe of an apprentice’s scissors.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

144. How do you remember the nifty things that happen in your life? Experiment with a new method.

All this and books, too

I’ve been doing a lot of work this week in the Seattle Public Library. The library offers computer resources which I’ve been using to job hunt. The library also offers quiet, which is a treasured commodity in today’s noisy world. Besides, I love the architecture.

I am sitting inside of a modern art masterpiece. The library, like many innovative structures, is a love it or hate it type of place. Everyone who has seen it or been inside has an opinion on the place, and no one is on the fence. I think that’s great. They built the new Weisman Art Museum when I was a student at the University of Minnesota, and it is another such building. The Weisman was one of the first radical metal designs by architect Frank Gehry, who went on to build the also controversial Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. The designs are similar. Although some deride the structure as a tin can, I think it’s wonderful for a building to dare to be different.

Our downtown library takes that same dare. Designed by Rem Koolhas, the library is supposed to look like a shifting tower of books. There are huge angled windows inside with a gridded network of diamond-shaped supports. Canary yellow escalators lead up and up towards further stacks and reading rooms. One floor is done completely in red, and that floor is set aside for meetings. There’s a garden in one of the reading rooms, and artwork throughout.

There are two pieces of art I particularly like. On the bottom level all of the floorboards are lines from books, and all of these lines are in different languages. It’s great to be surrounded by words in all directions. I also love the art in the main reference room. There is a display system that sits above the reference librarians. This system displays the titles and subjects that people in the library are researching and borrowing. The artwork displays this in real time, using different patterns. This masterpiece is like a moving mind map of the moment. I adore it. I hope to find a great new job sometime soon, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the opportunity to spend more time in one of this city’s magical places.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

143. Is there a building that is controversial where you live? Do you like it? Why or why not?

Links, should you desire them:

With lots of windows

I’m enjoying my new apartment. There are still lots of boxes to tunnel through, but the bones of the place are stunning. I’ve got exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and fancy molding. I’ve got pocket doors and a claw foot tub. The guy who looked at the apartment before I did was upset that it wasn’t more modern. Did I mention the claw foot tub?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in that tub since I moved in. There’s something so simple yet so luxurious about sitting in soapy scented water and just allowing the world to pass by. I love to relax in water of all variations. A long hot shower can steam my troubles away, and I like to wade in swimming pools. As much as I love water I’ve never learned to swim. I plan to remedy that someday.

I have also been luxuriating in my solitude. I most recently shared an apartment with two housemates. That was a fun arrangement and I enjoyed many aspects of it. I’m also glad to have my quiet time back and a little more control over my surroundings. I get a little thrill when I realize that I alone will decide where to place the plates and mugs. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in shared living situations, so these minor freedoms seem very decadent. I’m thoroughly enjoying each small liberty.

While I unpack I’m also taking the time to get to know my apartment. Each place I’ve lived has had a different character to it, and I find that I therefore live differently in them. This place has plaster walls that cannot tolerate nails well, so I’ll be hanging fewer pictures. I may find another way to display my treasures or I may leave things blank for a while. I’m still deciding how to bring this space to its highest potential.

I also believe that a relationship with an apartment is like any other relationship—while I work to arrange the space to suit my desires the space will slowly be affecting my own perceptions and lifestyle. I can’t wait to see what new fun this apartment will bring my way.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

139. How do you interact with your living space and the people in it? Consider this while enjoying one of your own small luxuries.

I walked to see the cars

Yesterday I immersed myself in deep pools of minutia on historic Seattle houses, and then I went dancing. It’s a nice balance thing, and I’m glad I have the two-step to pull me away from my books. I can get mesmerized by knowledge, forgetting to come up for air. I can also be mesmerized by my writing. Occasional bouts of this are okay, but take a writer away from the world for a while and she is no longer writing about reality. This may be okay for the authors of some genres, but I like to keep a tether to the universe around me.

I kept reading because my questions were being answered. I go dancing up on Capitol Hill, and I’ve often wondered why there are so many auto dealerships in a neighborhood that is so urban. I’m used to seeing car lots out on the frontage roads at the edges of town. As I studied the details on the properties listed on the website, I found out that the area was once a center for the car industry. Many of the brew pubs and coffee shops where I take my leisure used to be dealerships, and this is why the buildings have such enormous windows. It also explains the oddly placed driveways that jut into large structures. The falafel vendors use these to strategic advantage on busy evenings. The place where I buy art supplies used to sell Packards, and the funky bar across the street sold other luxury vehicles.

It was fun to be able to step out of my research and see the results last night. I looked at Capitol Hill with a new eye, knowing the history of some of its structures. I was a bit early for the line dancing, so I wandered around and peered in some windows. I admired the Ferraris in all their glossy red glory, and noticed the special rack of Ferrari garments within the store. It seems fitting somehow that most of the car showrooms that remain in the neighborhood are selling luxury vehicles. Ferrari fits in well next to the trendy new noodle shop selling cucumber and ginger gimlets. As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

129. Have you been really busy with a certain project lately? Come up for air. Perhaps your labors will shed new light on the world around you, or perhaps the world around you may shed new light on your project. Besides, as the advertising slogan would have it, “different is good.”