It’s official. I got the check in the mail.  I am a thousandaire writer. If you don’t know the term, which maybe my friend Hank invented? Thousandaire is like millionaire, only in thousands.  And as of today it is true: writing has made me a thousandaire. In fact, I have made $1260 in my writing career so far.

Five hundred for second place a poetry prize in college, where my friend Cara won first and this nice boy named Sam won third and his poem was about a chicken and mine was about a flower, but of course it wasn’t actually about a flower, it was about immanence versus transcendence, because everything I thought about at that point was, which is to say it was about sex and God and a dead saint.

Seventy five for three poems in the Bellingham Review, which helped save the winter of 2006 from being sadder than it had to be.

Twenty five for being a visiting writer in a Waldorf High School English class.

One hundred and fifty for a poem on a placard on a Seattle bus, in which I hoped for small things.

And then, today, five hundred and ten for an essay on stumps in High Country News.

This does not include the twenty they say is coming from this essay in Contrary.

So, young woman in that Waldorf class who raised her hand and said so politely, “I hear there is no money in the arts,” to which I had no great reply, though there is also no money in loving people or parenting or diving into clear water or eating gelato or any of so many things that make being human pretty awesome — young woman, look here. There is money in the arts. And this is only the beginning.


Thank God for Camelsuckers

Last weekend, I got to be a dad. It was unplanned — I thought I was just going backpacking with an old friend and her baby — but it happened, like it does, and I manned up to it.

It sneaks up.

It happened like this: my dear friend Jeanne and her 10 month old baby Ava and Squinchy and I decided to go baby backpacking in the North Cascades while Ava’s actual daddy was hiking hardcore in Alaska.  

I carried the sleeping bags and food and most of the gear, while Jeanne carried Ava, the tent, and Ava’s diaper bag and medicines and spirulina-banana-sesame “cookies.” Jeanne also carried the camelsucker.

I cook; Squinchy keeps watch

I should explain. Most people would call the camelsucker a Camelbac or Platypus, or — if they want to go generic and yet still vaguely insulting — a hydration bag.  Most people have little sense of the possibility of language. Ava’s grandfather, however, is no word wimp.  “Does that thing come with a camelsucker?” he asked Ava’s daddy about his new backpack.  Of course, it stuck.

Camelsucker sucker

I won’t be surprised if it’s Ava’s first word, after “mamamamama” and “dadadadada.” It’s already her teddy bear.  How many children get hydrated by their comfort objects? How many children crawl around dragging a cross between an IV bag and a hookah? How many children are Ava May?

Ava loves her camelsucker. To quote a song Daddy Becca wrote to entertain her while her mom was washing her diapers, “You love your camelsucker but not the way you love your mother who is washing out your diapers in a raging mountain river….

Just doing some laundry in the white water

But I was telling you about being a dad, because I was totally the dad of that trip.  I set up the tent. I operated the stove. I pumped most of the water.I carried a very large pack. I engineered the clotheslines when we needed to dry Ava’s diapers over the fire since nothing dries quickly in the Pacific Northwest, even in July. I carried the lighter and the map. I reassured the mom that the baby was not suffocating while she slept in the backpack. I went on little solo scouting walks when I needed a break and I did not ask permission. I did many things for Jeanne that she was at least as capable of doing as I was, except she was nursing or bouncing or carrying another person already. I did most of the “real work” of backpacking and I got consistent recognition for it.

Actually, Jeanne did quite a lot of that work as well — she pumped some water, helped with the tent, built the fire, gathered some wood, etc. — but somehow it seemed like I was the one doing it, like I was the one who should be acknowledged for it.  I was the one who was focused on it, even when Ava was eating fir cones or screaming for her camelsucker. It gave me a sense of usefulness, and the acknowledgment helped. And what was I supposed to say in return? “Thanks for nursing your baby?” Somehow, it never came out of my mouth, though it was true. I mean, if she hadn’t been nursing that baby, what would I have done? Not to mention that she blistered her hands in a glacial river washing diapers, or that her pack was at least as heavy as mine, since Ava alone weighs over 22 pounds not including her camelsucker.

It quickly became clear to me that gender roles exist for a reason. They make sense. They self-perpetuate. They are efficient at ensuring the good of the whole.  The more I stepped up in that hold-the-door-open kind of way, the better things worked for everyone.  The trick is remembering that it isn’t about ability — Jeanne can open doors pretty well on her own — but about spreading the work.

Manning the diaper drying apparatus

Having been a dad, I understand some dad things: The urge to interrupt with a better idea. The desire just to operate every mechanical object myself. The tendency to retreat into productive work. The satisfaction of sharing nature with children. The importance of keeping that camelsucker from running dry.

Working in our little team, we had a great trip.  Jeanne and I geeked out about plants; Ava mashed them.  Squinchy kept us a little too safe, which is another story. Ava played in the dirt and slept in the moss and had her diaper changed under the open sky. Jeanne kept Ava safe and happy and diapered. I made us some killer oatmeal.

According to Jeanne, I made a good dad.  Ava approved too, though I can’t be compared to her real dad, not to mention her camelsucker.


In honor of our country’s recent birthday, I wanted to talk about patriotism, which is a feeling I have mostly in National Parks.

I’ve been camping at Mt. Rainier National Park twice recently, and being there gives me a fuzzy proud feeling, like this:

Look at how gorgeously gorgeous this country is!

And look at all these people who love it!

And look at their funny little dollhouse camps with their camping chairs and grills and pink flamingos and fold-out wash stations!

Pin up boy!

And I have a funny little dollhouse camp too, with a dog bowl and firewood seats around my gratuitously smokey fire!

And here comes the ranger in his Smokey-the-Bear hat, which all dogs seem to hate, and here comes a little dog in a pink jacket to bite the ranger’s leg!And now the ranger is futilely lecturing the dog’s owners to keep their dog on a leash, when anyone else would have kicked the damn thing in the teeth!

Bikes! Kids on bikes!

And a visitor’s center with dead animal skins inside!

Now the ranger has come around again to invite us personally to a talk on “Life in the Tree Tops” at the amphitheater at 8:30, which means there is an amphitheater! But we won’t go because we’ll be in our dollhouse drinking cooler-cold beer and poking at the fire with sticks!

I love America!


Which brings me to the 4th of July. This year, it was our first day of summer, a day earlier than usual.  The lake was packed; I had a dreamy picnic.

Then I watched seven young black kids watch a mom set off fireworks in broad daylight.  “Run for the hills,” they yelled, and got well out of the way on a grassy slope.  “You ready? You ready?” the mom yelled, and lit the stick. Pop pop fizzle, went the pretty-pathetic firework.  “OOOOOOO!!!!” went the kids anyhow.

After that, I got a fake tattoo of a puppy and a heart, and ended up on the top floor of a building down town watching the city fireworks with six queer guys. It was a clear view across Lake Union, over the huddled masses of observing boats, to where the fireworks obscured themselves in their own smoke. We talked for a long time about how there should be Dolly Parton fireworks.  If they can make fireworks of smiley faces and jellyfish, why not big boobs and big hair? What else is more American?

They are getting there, aren’t they?

The smoke had flowed into the city by the time we went back down, and we walked out into the acrid air. I joined the line of hopefully-sober drivers, and headed home, happy. But I will tell you this: I felt a lot of things that day, most of them pretty awesome, but I never got that fuzzy sense of pride.

Blame it on the Dog

Two weekends ago, on the way home from camping at Mt. Rainier National Park, I stopped for a burger at Naches Tavern, where a sign in the window reads IF YOU ARE UNDER 21 BE PREPARED.

Naches Tavern
After a conversation where of all things we mostly talked about William Blake and skiing and interpretive dance, an ex-ski bum/firefighter named Mike gave me his number. He wrote it on a Mac and Jacks coaster, and I put it in my pocket.
“Oooo, her boyfriend is going to see that,” teased Mike’s buddy Fred.
“Actually, it’s my dog you have to worry about,” I said.
Then they drove off in a big truck.
I had all good intentions of calling him. I almost did it Monday, but thought I’d be cool and wait. Tuesday morning, the coaster disappeared. It surfaced on the front stoop, a little altered. The corner where the number was had been chewed off.
So sorry, Mike, my dog ate your number.
And all you people who eternally wondered why that certain person never called after you wrote down your number for them: who knows, maybe they have protective dogs too.  However, if they put your number in their phone instead of just on paper, they probably do hate you. Or they have super dedicated dogs.
And all you people who think that William Blake can’t help you pick up cute guys in small town bars, hah!
Also, Squinchy totally made up for it by a) being awesome and handsome, and b) befriending the interesting guy at the dog park’s dog today. I think I’ll trust Squinchy’s nose on this one.