Please Don’t Flaunt Your Flowers

So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Hurray for love! I hope you appreciate it every day of the year. Love really is all that matters in this world, and the romantic kind is beyond compare.

Having said that, I hope you will be a bit sensitive to those of us who don’t have it in our lives. Some of us look to Valentine’s Day with a certain level of dread and resignation. It’s particularly painful for those of us who have lost loved ones. And it can be downright depressing for those of us who have given up all hope of finding someone to love. (I know you’ll be tempted to say, “You’ll find someone!” in the comments section. But the odds are equally good that I won’t. Please allow me to reside in the real world.)

For those of us in the lonely hearts’ club, your big bouquet of flowers, delivered to the office with a great deal of fanfare, is disheartening. Your chocolate makes us lose our appetite. We are happy for you, yes, but it would be nice to be able to be happy for ourselves.

And please understand that for the lovelorn, the day after Valentines is viewed simply as a great opportunity to buy chocolate on sale. We don’t rush to work in eager anticipation of hearing about your romantic dinner at the fancy restaurant, or your bed strewn with rose petals. We’re just happy to have survived the day once again.

So please, enjoy your flowers. But could you take them home now? Thanks.


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When the Love Spell is Broken

Love is like a drug. When you’re deep in it, especially in the early stages, it’s hard to see flaws. Red flags just look like a pretty splash of color in your world. You want to bask in the fact that you seem to have found evidence of perfection, and that perfect person, against all odds, thinks that you’re pretty darned amazing, too. Such bliss.

It’s a heady feeling, that perfect love. The problem is, it’s pure fiction. Everyone has flaws. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have the scales fall from dazzled eyes at least once in his or her romantic life. It’s profoundly discouraging to discover that the prince you’ve been kissing has been a frog all along and you’ve just refused to see it.

I think the reason we try to cling to the fantasy for as long as we can is that we’ve been raised to believe that true success means we must be part of a couple. It’s as if those of us who don’t go around two-by-two have somehow failed at life, and should be ashamed. What a steaming pile of horse manure. In modern times, one can do quite well on one’s own.

Yes, it can be lonely. We are social animals. But it’s possible to be social without being joined at the hip. I think it would be easier for many of us if we didn’t have so much societal pressure to take paths in life that we are unable or unwilling to walk down.

But if you insist, know this: True and enduring love is not ignoring someone’s flaws. Neither is it settling for the intolerable. It’s finding someone whose flaws you can see clearly and live with and still maintain a modicum of self-respect as well as respect for the other person. I understand that that picture isn’t quite as pretty, but it’s a heck of a lot more realistic.


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A Romantic Vacation for One

This is a story I told at a recent gathering here in Seattle called Fresh Ground Stories. The theme this time was, “You can’t always get what you want.” Normally, when I tell a story at this event, I am able to attach a recording of it here. Sadly the recorder crapped out, so I have to content myself with sharing the text with you. I hope you like it.

I’ve been in Seattle for about two years now. I was hoping that by this point I wouldn’t have to vacation alone. In retrospect that was an optimistic goal. I didn’t know a soul here when I arrived, my work schedule is very strange, and most people my age aren’t looking for new friends.

So recently I found myself vacationing on the romantic Oregon coast with no one but my two dogs for company. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good dogs. They just have a hard time holding up their end of a conversation.

So I found myself sightseeing all alone. I gazed into the Devil’s Punchbowl and imagined my man standing behind me with his arms around me, whispering, “Beautiful.” (I have a healthy imagination.)

Returning to my car, I said to myself, “You’ve got to snap out of this or you’re going to plunge into a deep dark depression, and it’s not like you’ll get a vacation do-over.”

To add another layer of complexity, that was the launch day for my very first book, so I really did have a lot to celebrate. So I took myself out to dinner. I had salmon. I had a marionberry cobbler for dessert. Up to this point, I didn’t even know that marionberries existed, so it was quite an adventure. I told the waiter about my book. Then I went back to my room and hugged my dogs.

At some point during the trip, though, I reached a turning point. I realized that I was alone, but the views were still gorgeous. I was alone, but the salmon was still delicious, the salt air still smelled sweet, and the fog was so mysterious it gave me butterflies. Wonderful memories were still being made.

It was a romantic vacation for one, and I had fallen in love with the Oregon coast. I’ll be back someday. Maybe I won’t be alone next time. Maybe I will. But either way, I’m looking forward to it.

The Devil’s Punchbowl

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Greetings from a Former Brothel

During my recent visit to Port Townsend, Washington, I explored a gorgeously restored Victorian edifice called the Palace Hotel. This brick building was built in 1889, and has housed many things throughout its history, including a billiard room, a saloon, a newspaper, a theater, a grocery store and several restaurants. But, most famously, for 8 years it was a brothel.

The restoration, which started in 1976, centered on the brothel era. All the rooms are named after the women who plied their trade here. You can stay in the Miss Abigail or the Miss Sara, for example. And there’s an intriguing lampshade on the second floor that was made from a corset.


One of the most delightful traditions of this place is that even if you aren’t staying there, you can look in the rooms that are not currently occupied. And they will take your breath away. Each room is different, but they all have 14 foot ceilings and gorgeously quilted beds. Many have stunning views and luxurious bathrooms, some with clawfoot tubs. I really want to stay there at some point.

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While the restoration is faithful to the time period, with exquisite antiques as far as the eye can see, I’m sort of glad they weren’t as successful at bringing back the brothel atmosphere. Oddly enough, I’ve been in several hotels that were former brothels, and they would all like to romanticize the profession. They’d like to make you feel that these places were elegant, and employed nothing but whores with hearts of gold who were happy to be there and content with their lives.

I suspect that this is far from the truth. These women were servicing the loggers and seafaring men of the region. They were in an isolated community that must have been even harder to get into and out of than it is now. I’m quite sure there was absolutely nothing to do during their free time, if they had any. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the house madam, Marie, was as tough as nails.

If the restoration had actually been able to evoke the ghosts of the past, this would probably be a sad and tense place to be. But as much as they were on my mind, I could not feel any spiritual residue of these unfortunate women as I wandered the halls of this hotel. I wonder if they’d be amused to know that people are still profiting off of them 80 years after the brothel was shut down.

Today, the Palace Hotel is open and airy and a feast for the eyes. I can’t imagine a better spot for a romantic getaway. Check it out!

Marriage Contracts

I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR the other day, and they were discussing the fact that in Israel, a woman cannot get divorced without her husband’s permission. Even a secular woman in that country is bound by this ancient Jewish practice. So if you have a vindictive husband with nothing to lose (the very type you’d most want to leave), you could very well be stuck with him for life. That means that even if you don’t live together, his debts and problems will forever be yours. What a nightmare. That’s not marriage. That’s slavery.

I love it when people talk about the sanctity of marriage as if it were some sort of never-changing feature in life’s landscape. The fact is that more marriages end in divorce than live happily ever after. That has been the reality for many, many decades, and it obviously isn’t going to change. With that in mind, isn’t it high time we develop our laws to reflect this irrefutable evidence?

Divorce should be a much simpler, cut and dried procedure that doesn’t cost a fortune and doesn’t require lawyers. As a matter of fact, from a sociological standpoint it would make much more sense if the marriage contract were something that people had to renew every, say, five years. If it wasn’t working out, you simply let the contract expire.

“Oh, but then there would be no stability for the poor innocent children!” Gimme a break. There’s no stability for them now. If people don’t want to be together, they’ll find a way not to be together. Making divorce easier isn’t going to impact that. It will just mean the inevitable will come to pass in a more equitable, rapid, inexpensive and less stress-inducing manner.

Marriage was invented at a time when people weren’t expected to make it to age 40. It was a lovely, romantic construct that added to a stable society, and provided support for women at a time when they couldn’t work outside the home. But let’s face it, you can live with the devil himself for that short amount of time but it’s quite different when you tack on an additional 40 years to that proposition, and women these days can take care of themselves. This delightful tradition no longer suits the reality of the situation.

It’s high time we take the religious fantasy out of our legal system and deal with the practicalities at hand.


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Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.