Women Painters of Washington Gallery

Normally, I plan to visit an art gallery. I’m therefore anticipating a feeling of delight and awe, and even a bit of envy, when presented with such talent. I’m emotionally prepared for those exquisite feelings.

But on this particular, pre-pandemic day, I wasn’t expecting to be treated to dozens of stunning works of art. I didn’t have the opportunity to look forward to it. I wasn’t braced for an influx of emotion.

The Women Painters of Washington Gallery snuck up on me. I had other business in the Columbia Center Building, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper. I planned to do that. I didn’t plan to do this. But there it was, on the third floor, beckoning to me, splashes of vibrant color peeking through the windows, an antidote to the evergrey of a Pacific Northwest winter.

“Hello,” I thought. “I wasn’t expecting to meet you. I didn’t even know you existed.”

This encounter happened at an opportune time. The gallery is only open Monday through Friday from 11am to 4pm. Otherwise I’d have had to content myself with pressing my nose against the glass. And admission to this treat for your senses is absolutely free.

I not only enjoyed the art in this gallery, but also the very premise of it. According to their exquisitely designed website, the Women Painters of Washington has a wonderful mission statement:

Women Painters of Washington empowers professional women artists to create, exhibit, and market their work while fostering art appreciation within their communities and beyond.

This group was founded in 1930 because, as I’m sure will come as no surprise to you, women artists face certain limitations when attempting to realize their artistic potential. What a fantastic idea. Three cheers for strength in numbers!

I encourage you to check out their website, where you can see dozens of works of art from the comfort of your own home. But if, like me, you think the website is of fabulous design, you really need to visit the gallery when this virus burns itself out. Its walls each contain a giant metal wheel which can roll along a metal track so that the placement and design of an exhibit can change with each passing display. I’ve never seen such a brilliant use of limited space.

What follows are pictures my husband took during our visit. Let me know what you think. And if you get a chance, stop by and visit one of Seattle’s best kept secrets!

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Shopping for the Apocalypse

A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.

What a nightmare.

The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)

And yet, I persisted.

When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.

I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.

All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.

I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.

After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.

The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?

While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.

Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.

“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”

That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.

Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.

I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.

Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.

For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.

shopping

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That Moment When the Hair Stands up on the Back of Your Neck

So, I was sitting at my desk at work. It was a typical day on my drawbridge (if you can call any day on a drawbridge typical). I’d been there for several hours. I was thinking about lunch. That’s when I saw the half-eaten food in the recycle bin.

My first instinct was to be irritated. Not everyone takes recycling as seriously as I do. I sighed, and transferred the food into the regular trash can. But then I realized that the last employee who had been on the bridge was… me.

I had gotten off work at 11 pm the night before, and had returned to work at 7 am that morning. No one had been there in the intervening hours. Let me rephrase that. No one who was supposed to have been there had been there. And yet, there was that food.

I tested the window beside the desk. It was unlocked. We never leave it unlocked. I looked at the lock on the outside of the window. It had been tampered with. (See below.) Someone had been there.

This felt like a violation, as if someone had rifled through my underwear drawer. Granted, nothing of value was taken. Then I realized that some of my food items were missing from the fridge. And I had left the toilet seat up after cleaning the bathroom the night before. Now it was down.

Someone had broken in to get out of the wind and weather, and had made themselves at home, helped themselves to my food, and used the bathroom. Thank goodness they weren’t still there when I arrived in the morning. What would I have done? I wouldn’t have seen them until I reached the top of the stairs, which would have made it awfully hard for either one of us to beat a hasty retreat.

And then I realized that they could still be there.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Suddenly the closed closet door behind me felt like it was radiating heat. I turned slowly. I looked at that door. My heart was pounding.

But surely no one had been standing in there for 4 solid hours, amongst the mops and buckets, as I sat all alone not two feet away, without me hearing a sound. Surely not.

Still…

I slowly opened the drawer where the heavy industrial flashlight was housed. I gripped it tightly. I took a deep breath and opened the closet door.

Nobody. I felt sick with relief. I felt resentful that my safe place no longer felt safe.

And then there were the phone calls and the paperwork and the police report and the debate about best methods to amp up security. Those things kept me busy. Those things prevented me from digesting the experience.

That night, before security measures could be put into place, an employee was posted on the bridge overnight. And at 1 am, someone tried to break in again. My coworker scared them away, but couldn’t give a good description. Great.

Now, a few days out, what strikes me most is how abruptly the atmosphere in that room had changed for me. One minute, status quo. The next… Someone had been there. Someone who shouldn’t have been. In my sanctuary.

And it could happen again at any time.

Tranquility is such a tenuous thing.

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Third and Pine

Shots rang out on Third and Pine in the gritty heart of downtown Seattle, Washington. A major commuter hub in the midst of rush hour, it was bustling with activity. All were strangers to one another. They’re forever linked now, as they hit the ground together and scrambled for cover.

This was the third shooting in the area in just over 24 hours. The total head count for those three incidents is two dead, and 8 injured, including a 9-year-old boy. The latest of these three tragedies escalated from some kind of a dispute outside the McDonalds.

There’s no fight on earth, absolutely none, that justifies opening fire on a crowd of strangers. It’s heartbreaking. It’s outrageous. It’s unnecessary.

What strikes me most about this situation is that it was so arbitrary. All the victims were simply minding their own business. Perhaps they were getting ready to catch a bus after a hard day’s work, or craving some French fries, or stopping in for their daily coffee break. Maybe they had just paused long enough to text a message to a spouse. “Honey, could you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” “Don’t forget to stop at the dry cleaners.” And bam, their lives were forever changed, if not ended.

Our very existence, in general, is pretty arbitrary. We never know when we’ll find ourselves at the Thirds and the Pines of life. It could all end in a second. There’s no way to know.

You can choose to live your life in fear because of this, but I think a better option is to savor every single moment you have, because each one is a precious gift. It’s all so fragile, so priceless, so bittersweet. It’s much better to appreciate than to fear.

So, your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go tell someone you love them. Right now.

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A Real Dog and Pony Show

It was early in the morning, and I had just gotten to work. My brain was in a bit of a fog, and I was just going through the motions. I had logged into the City of Seattle employee website to fill out my time sheet, when this image popped up.

Capture

I had to rub my eyes and stare at it for a minute. Were they serious? Clearly whoever put that training together had no idea what the term “Dog and Pony Show” really means.

If you google the definition of this phrase, and go to the most qualified of sources, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you find that it’s an elaborate or overblown affair or event, and that its first known use was in 1949. Innocuous enough, I suppose.

But if you go to Wikipedia, you learn that the term is typically “used in a pejorative sense to connote disdain, jocular lack of appreciation, or distrust of the message being presented or the efforts undertaken to present it.”

Now, why would the City of Seattle want to name a training about public engagement, designed to attract people who are “curious about training and managing digital communications” a Dog and Pony Show? It boggles the mind.

Oh, but it gets worse. Because this is NOT the only definition of a Dog and Pony Show. It’s certainly not the definition that I learned and cannot ever wash out of my head. This definition is crude. It’s about sexual exploitation. It’s so disgusting that I refuse to go into detail here. If you’re really interested, follow this link. But be advised that it’s not safe for work, and it’s definitely rated x. All of these definitions are gross, but scroll down to the very bottom one, which is by far the worst, and you’ll see the one that I was taught. Perhaps that’s because I spent the bulk of my life in a military town. Either way, yuck.

So anyway, that was what was going through my foggy head that morning when I saw that particular training on offer. At first I kind of scoffed at their ignorance, and planned to say nothing. Let the stuff hit the fan and sit back and watch. Because even the least innocuous, more official definition, with all its implications of incompetence and disdain, are very, very bad optics for the City of Seattle.

But as the day went on, it began to eat at me. Any woman in the know would be offended by the name of this training. They wouldn’t want to attend. And I’d certainly think less of any man who did so. The City of Seattle prides itself on its enlightenment and inclusiveness and its diversity, but this is not the first time (see my post entitled The Cubic Yard Test) that they’ve clearly demonstrated that they have a long, long, long way to go.

So I decided to contact the training department. In fairness, they were very polite, and said that the training was being sponsored by the Information Technology Department, and they would forward my concerns to them. Several days went by. The graphic remained on the employee website (where it still is as of this writing). Surely, I thought, more people were complaining about this.

But no. I came to work today to an e-mail from the IT department that said, basically, that the Urban Dictionary isn’t an official or credible dictionary source. Instead they provided sources that refer back to the pejorative definition mentioned above. As if that would be acceptable.

While I wouldn’t cite the Urban Dictionary in a master’s thesis, these definitions exist because some portion of the general population (read “unwashed masses” if you must) interprets these words in this manner. That, to me, would be enough to rethink the name of my training, especially when you are representing a public entity like the City of Seattle. But hey, that’s just me.

This is purely speculation, but they’re probably loathe to give up such a cool graphic. (I have to admit, it is really well done, and probably took more than a minute to design.) I’m sure they’ve got all their power point presentations in place and don’t want to change them. And they’re IT people who hate to be (rightly or wrongly) considered out of touch with popular culture. And no one wants to be  called out as foolish or wrongheaded in any way, so to heck with the small percentage of us who are shocked and appalled by their poorly researched idea.

So in the end, they’re absolutely right. This is a dog and pony show, indeed.

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Lightning Stories

I find lightning fascinating. From a distance. And from inside a safely grounded shelter. You don’t see much of it here in the Seattle area, though, and I miss it.

But I also have a healthy respect for lightning. At the age of 10, I moved from Connecticut to Florida, and quickly discovered that Connecticut’s lightning is child’s play by comparison. Florida has epic downpours with thunder that rattles the fillings in your teeth and lightning that can render you speechless. In fact, Florida is the most lightning-prone state in the U.S.

That kind of weather gets magnified tenfold if experiencing it for the first time while living in a tent as I did. Back then, I was terrified by Florida storms, and used those unsettling events as an opportunity to wail and howl out my rage and fear about having been rendered all but homeless at a time in life when I had absolutely no control.

With age and an improved living situation, I learned to take shelter and enjoy nature’s free light shows whenever possible.

Once, a friend of mine was visiting from Holland, so I took her to the beach. She wandered along the shoreline as I sat and enjoyed the Atlantic waves. But storm clouds rushed in from the East, and me and the rest of the savvy Floridians took off for the safety of our cars. I was desperately hopping up and down and motioning to the black, looming clouds and waving at her to come the eff on, and you’d think that that, and the fact that she suddenly had the beach to herself, would have been some sort of a clue. But no. She continued to slowly amble down the shoreline. When she finally came back, I explained to her how much danger she had been in, but she simply got angry with me for rushing her. She rarely took me seriously. For a variety of reasons, we’ve lost touch.

Later in life, when I worked for the State of Florida Department of Transportation, I was friends with the district lighting inspector. One of his tasks was to drive around at night and make sure street lights were functioning, and report them for repair if they were not. One night he drove up to a light pole just after it had been struck by lightning. The pole was in sand, and the sand was still glowing. He came back after it cooled and dug up several chunks of multicolored glass from the ground. He gave me one. I still have it. Somewhere.

Another time he showed me a dead turtle, frozen in place, its legs extended, its neck outstretched. He said that it had been struck by lightning before his very eyes. You never knew what you’d see when you worked in the field.

When I first became a bridgetender in Florida, I quickly got used to lightning striking my bridges. All of our structures came with lightning rods which were attached to copper cables that stretched down to the water, but the fishermen often harvested said copper, so you never knew what was going to happen from one strike to the next. But when the lightning was at a distance, I enjoyed the light show, along with the blue glow of transformers being struck on the horizon, with the accompanying patches of dark city skyline.

Nature, man. It’s awesome.

Recently I learned about something to add to my bucket list. The Maracaibo Beacon, also known as the Catatumbo lightning is a phenomenon that happens in Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo. Lightning can strike up to 280 times per hour, 160 days a year, for 9 hours at a stretch. It happens so much that it draws tourists, but it also kills residents, and drastically impacts economic pursuits, so scientists are attempting to predict these storms as much as three months in advance. I wish them luck.

There are several theories about these storms. The most reasonable one is that the warm, moist Caribbean air is forced upward into the cold surrounding mountains, causing electrical storms. Another has to do with the methane in area swamps, while a third mentions the uranium in the ground.

It’s hard to say, but it sounds like it would be a fascinating place to indulge in my lightning fetish! I only wish the politics of that country were a little more stable. Maybe someday. Until then, I’ll have to content myself with watching this amazing video.

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Catatumbo lightning

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Water Light and Dark

As I write this, I’m in the midst of an epic downpour here in Seattle. Six inches in a 48-hour period. Now I completely understand why the least favorite word in the English language is moist.

This has me thinking about the love/hate relationship we all have with water. We can’t live without it. It’s refreshing on a hot day. It’s fun to swim and surf in. It is vital for food growth and production. And since the world revolves around me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my job as a bridgetender depends on its existence.

On the other hand, as global climate change plagues us all, the sea levels are rising, and areas that used to put up with mere nuisance floods are now inundated. In other parts of the world, severe droughts are destroying crops and causing fires the likes of which the world has never seen. People the world over are being forced to relocate. Thanks to our meddling, nature seems to be struggling to find that balance between too much water and not enough. At either extreme, the results can be deadly.

In this current downpour, as I descend the hill from my house, I’ve witnessed water jetting up to three feet out of the storm drains, either because of a blockage down below, or because they simply cannot handle the volume. This has caused the street in the valley below to be closed. Landslides are happening in the region, and more than a few large Pacific Northwest trees are toppling because of the waterlogged soil.

If I were Queen of the world, I’d send some of this water down to California, where it’s desperately needed. But as it stands, I can barely convince Quagmire, my fastidious dachshund, to go outside to potty, so that tells you how powerful I am in the face of this storm. Water can be quite humbling that way.

Singin in the Rain Adam Cooper

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