on the mind on the road


We get up each morning, pull on sandy swimsuits and stained shirts, grab our makeshift toys — comprised largely of old yogurt containers, straws, and plastic fast-food utensils — and run out to the beach. We can’t remember the last time we bathed in something other than the ocean, and that’s just fine.

The beaches are relatively empty; the unseasonably cold 70-degree summer that is far too chilly for the native Californians is downright balmy for we Washingtonians. Last week, we had Disneyland all to ourselves for a few hours: A late afternoon downpour drove the less rusty away, so we ran around the saturated park, splashed in lakes/puddles, and rode The Pirates of the Caribbean at least 7,397 times.

On our way home to Washington, we stopped at this dank little motel in one of my mother’s childhood hometowns, Laguna Beach. An overnight stay has turned into much longer, maybe a month, with my mother rarely coming out of the tiny bedroom at the back. When she does, she is bleary-eyed and somewhat removed from us, as if she’s in a parallel universe, contending with other children, other husbands, other families, and she doesn’t have the ability to be in both places at the same time. Her interactions with my father are strained, her refusals to leave visibly frustrating him.

But for me and my brothers, our new beach life is amazing! These aren’t the rocky, jagged beaches that we’re used to, over which we must always tread gingerly so as to avoid the wrath of a billion barnacles. No, these are soft, sugary beaches, made for running, wrestling, and sculpting sandcastles. My brothers and I spend all day on them, occasionally heeding my father’s calls for us to come and eat whichever fast-food fare he’s procured. Our days are filled with scrapes and surf and sun, and this is our life now. We are beach children.

Until we’re not. One day, we wake up, find that our father has packed up everything, our mother shoos us into the Toyota van, which we’ve nicknamed the MoonBuggy, and we begin the long trek back to chillier, rockier shores.

My mother and I are having one of our extended weekends together; it’s rainy, of course, and she’s come over to Seattle to visit me. We’re holed up in my townhouse, the light filtering from the upstairs loft barely making a dent in the rainshadows, the old electric heater firing up like an incontinent jet engine every now and again. We sip wine as she recounts tales of her rather complicated childhood. 

“So the only house we lived in for more than, oh, six months was this one in Laguna Beach–”

“I love Laguna Beach!” I cut her off with a joyful squeal. “Remember when we were there when I was a kid, and we ended up staying for a whole month?”

“Yes, I remember. But it was only a week, Katherine.”

“Well, whatever. It was such a great summer, with Disneyland and swimming every day, I loved it.”

“Yeah, well … I remember it differently.” She takes a sip of her wine. “You know, that was the summer that I told your father that we might have to divorce.”

My parents have been divorced for decades and had lived somewhat separate lives before that, so the revelation of divorce wasn’t surprising; but her telling me that she had been thinking about it since that summer, so long ago, was.

“Really? All the way back then? Wow.”

“Well, I didn’t know what to do. You know, I was the Relief Society president and I was just really burned out. I couldn’t face going back to Washington, going back to the church. I hated it; it wasn’t me anymore. It was so different in California than here. You know, when I joined the church, it was all hippies and the seventies and so a lot of the Mormon stuff was what hippies were doing — making their own clothes, growing their own food, canning everything, you know, all that back to the Earth stuff. But in Washington, it was just old farmers and they were really conservative so, after several years of it, I couldn’t stand it.”

“So that’s why we stopped going?”

“Kind of. Well, I told your father that I couldn’t go back to it, that if he needed me to be the Good Mormon Wife that I couldn’t do it anymore and maybe we should get divorced. But he agreed that we could go back and that maybe I could do less. He didn’t agree to us not going at all, though.”

“Yeah, because I thought that happened a few years later. But I always thought it was because of the sock thing!”

She laughed. “No, not just the sock thing.”

There is no cable television on the reservation; there are only six channels: The ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS affiliates and two unaffiliated local channels that play reruns of sitcoms from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. When the weather gets bad, the antenna goes out and so then we have only static.

In our rural community, most of what we learn about American culture comes to us from the television; and in 1986, “culture” means Miami Vice. It had come out a couple of years before and its impact on style has finally reached our little backwater — specifically, the “cool” boys are walking around in shoes with no socks and wearing comically oversized blazers on top of t-shirts.

My two older brothers are no exception, but Mormons aren’t known for their reverence to current fashion — at least, not the Mormons that I grew up with. Every Sunday, my older brothers don their best Don Johnson stylings, saturate their hair with gel, and go to church. Now, they started out with socks on; we know this because they were wearing these getups for a few weeks without issue. Then, one day, there is.

After Sunday School is over, my younger brother and I convene at the MoonBuggy, alone. We begin playing on the grass next to the parking lot, and only after we notice that many of the cars have already left the church do we begin to get a little bit worried. Where are our parents, our brothers? Another few minutes pass and then the four of them come out of the church: My two older brothers have their heads hung low, my mother is looking irritated, my father resigned. They reach the MoonBuggy and, before we can say anything, we’re ordered to get in and we leave. As the youngest members of the family, we’re often not included in Important Things, and neither my parents or older brothers are interested in sharing with us what had happened. So we promptly forget about it.

The next Sunday, there are muffled shouts coming from my parents’ bedroom as we are getting ready for church. I can’t really make out what they’re saying, but since they fight often, I also don’t really care. I instead try to focus on the game of pretend that I’ve fully launched myself into, hoping to shut out the yelling. My parents finally open the door, my father stomping to the other side of the house and shouting something at my older brothers. My younger brother and I are still in the dark as to what’s going on, but again — we don’t really care. We’re just happy that we’re not the ones in trouble for once, and we climb into the MoonBuggy with an air of benevolent self-satisfaction. It feels good to be the Good Ones!

After a ride to church in total silence, we give ourselves over to the order of the day: A two-hour-long testimony meeting, then two hours of Sunday School. Again, my younger brother and I convene at the MoonBuggy alone. But, this time, we don’t have to wait long, because our mother comes storming out of the church, my brothers following sheepishly behind her, our father walking along much more slowly, looking particularly pained.

When they reach the car, my brothers climb in and sit quietly in the back; my younger brother and I are looking around confusedly, asking what’s going on. We’re told to just get into the van and that we were going home. The ride home is again in silence, and now my younger brother and I do really care. When we reach our house, I send my younger brother out on a mission of reconnaissance; he returns with eyes gleaming.

“They weren’t wearing any socks!” He exclaims triumphantly.

“What do you mean? They had socks on this morning I thought.”

“They told them that if they came to church again without socks on, they couldn’t come back. So today they went there and they took their socks off in the bathroom and so they got into trouble. And mom and dad had to talk to the bishop and they told them we couldn’t come back until the boys were wearing socks.”

“So are we going back?”

“I dunno.”

We didn’t go back. It seemed so serious then, but now, in my shaded apartment decades later, we laugh about it.

“So that’s what I always thought, that we stopped going because the boys wouldn’t wear socks! I didn’t know you had been having issues with it for years.”


“Why did you even become a Mormon? It’s not like you were born into it, so what happened?”

“I just wanted things to be normal, you know? And my friends who were Mormon seemed to have the most normal lives I had seen. Their parents were around, they ate dinner together every night, they had clean clothes. There wasn’t the kind of chaos that I had at my house, the drinking and the fighting and the abuse.” She laughs to herself a bit. “I guess trying to be normal was my teenage rebellion.”

There isn’t much of a sunset to be seen tonight, but what little light has been able to filter through the clouds has dimmed a bit more. We each take another sip of wine as we stare out the window, caught in our own individual reveries of perspectives past.

on the mind

Purple Parachute Pants

You know the spellbinding glow that mysteriously emanates from the briefcase each time it’s opened in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction? When I envision the Purple Parachute Pants that I wore religiously when I was eight years old, they are saturated in a similarly magical halo.

Now, I don’t use the word “religiously” lightly; I was, in fact, rather obsessed with these pants and I wore them every single day. As I was a precocious tomboy, I spent most of my days tramping through the forest, catching snakes and frogs in the swamp, building precarious tree forts positioned as high as I could climb, rolling down hills of snake grass, and cutting mazes through vast fields of Scotch Broom. None of these activities lent themselves to cleanliness and so, much to my mother’s chagrin, the Purple Parachute Pants were in a constant state of disarray. 

I also don’t use the word “magical” lightly; to my eight-year-old mind, the Purple Parachute Pants were the best thing that had ever happened to me, clothes-wise, since, well, actually having to wear clothes. They possessed three of the most important attributes essential to unencumbered exploration: functionality, ease of movement, and material so slippery, it seemed impenetrable by the likes of dirt, mud, and tree sap. (Incidentally, these are all qualities that I still look for while selecting clothes.)Their utility, in everything from carrying tools and toys to scaling creosote-drenched playground structures to withstanding all matter of foodstuff “accidentally” dropped during dinner, ultimately rendered them the only essential component of my defacto uniform. In short: They were perfection.

While my brothers and I are relatively close in age, they were always rather annoyed by me and preferred to go off on their own adventures with each other. A consequence/benefit of this is that I developed an incredibly rich interior life, often spending hours, days, and weeks immersed in a fantastical world populated primarily with creatures of my own imagination. I also pressed our family pets into service, requiring them to play parts in my complicated storylines–a role that our eager German Shepherd was only too happy to play, while our cranky calico cat occasionally emitted a disgruntled mrowr or two, particularly when required to wear some type of costume.

At school, I continued much of my fantastical feats on the playground, sometimes including my classmates but not really concerning myself if they weren’t interested. The Purple Parachute Pants were perfectly suited to the elementary school playgrounds of the 1980s, specifically those on the rural indigenous reservations in Washington State, as they were constructed mostly of old railroad ties, partially rusted metal, and pea gravel. Accordingly, the Purple Parachute Pants were required school attire each and every day.

This state of affairs irritated my mother to no end; she had been raised in a particularly sterile household and, to this day, finds the act of any type of cleaning to be one of relaxation. While I’m sure she must have stolen the Purple Parachute Pants on occasion to wash them while I was sleeping so that they couldn’t actually stand up on their own, any time she attempted to squirrel them away, tell me they weren’t washed and that I had to wear something else, or try to put her foot down and forcefully dress me in different clothes, a magnificent battle would ensue. My meltdowns were prolific and never-ending, my attachment to the Purple Parachute Pants so deep that I was simply unable to function without them. The one concession that I made, albeit begrudgingly, was that when we went to church, I would slip a dress on over the Purple Parachute Pants.

But the fact that her only daughter was going out into the world wearing these disgusting pants was a point of shame for my mother. While other mothers had well-coiffed daughters who sported crisp and clean clothing, I was unkempt and stained, rarely remembering to perform basic body care tasks without consistent prodding. I often forgot that I even had a body, my devotion to my imagination was so complete. Introverted and always observing, it was–and still sometimes is–quite surprising to me when someone noticed that I was there.

Years later, my mother told me that, at her wit’s end, she had consulted my third-grade teacher, Mr. Byers, about what to do about the Purple Parachute Pants. She confessed that she had told him how ashamed and embarrassed she was by them, and that she thought the school or other parents would think I was being neglected because I always looked dirty. He told her not to worry about it, that she should let me wear them and not wash them and that, eventually, the natural cruelty of children would do their work for them and I would be shamed by my peers into not wearing them anymore. This was a revelation to me, however, because I have absolutely no negative memories of the Purple Parachute Pants ever causing me a lick of trouble from anyone but my mother. In fact, as referenced at the beginning of this tale, they held only glorious memories of unencumbered joy. 

Now, whether or not my classmates derided me may never be known; since I was generally in my own little world, they may very well have, and I may have not even absorbed what they were doing. So instead of succumbing to the peer pressure proposed by Mr. Byers, the Purple Parachute Pants had a rather mundane demise. One afternoon, I had identified a tree with a Y structure that would be perfect for a perch. I filled my pockets with nails and a hammer, then slowly scaled the tree while balancing a board suitable enough for a reading platform. Upon reaching the Y, I carefully nailed the board into place, then climbed higher and lowered myself down. It was perfect! I could spy everything from high up in the treetops, and no one would bother me–in fact, it would be difficult for anyone to even know I was up there. Now, all I needed was a book. I began climbing down when the unthinkable happened: The Purple Parachute Pants were caught briefly on a small, sharp branch and ripped open, emitting a sharp noise that, because of the nylon material, sounded like a coat being forcefully unzipped.

I was devastated. The Purple Parachute Pants were torn from my mid-thigh to my upper knee, the internal layer of nylon preventing the branch from scratching my skin. Even in their final moments, they had protected me! I ran home sobbing, begging my mother to fix them. She claimed they were beyond repair and threw them away rather unceremoniously. I moped for days. Then, as children do, I eventually moved on to something else, the magical glory of the Purple Parachute Pants continuing to live on as a legend in my own mind–so much so, that I’m writing about them now, 36 years later.

And they’re still the best pair of pants I’ve ever owned.

on the mind


If there is anything that will make you feel just as small and inconsequential as you actually are, it’s geology. We see all of these lush plants and quirky animals and we think that they are the living, breathing soul of our Mother Earth. When cases are made about climate change and all the death and destruction that is likely to ensue, it is on these rather vulnerable, soft-bodied entities that data is collected. We are preoccupied with the thought that we are in the end-of-days, the final chapter, that everything we think of as “life” is on the brink of extinction.

But Mother Earth’s soul is a much more volatile engine, one that is churning and burning and generating fiery forces which are drafting, as I type, whole new outlines and plot twists for the future.

There are a few dope things that we theorize about this planet, and here is one: A constantly drifting series of plates forces minerals beneath the Earth’s surface, melts them, regurgitates them, and forms completely new appendages which will eventually be eroded, broken down into its core constituents, and reimagined again through the same, eons-long process. All of this is driven by radioactive decay, and there will be a time at some point in the future when the Earth’s core has been transformed into lead and then — and only then — will this lovely planet “die.” Before that time, however, the Earth is creating stories upon stories with a complicated and Joycean approach to structure and character development.

Yes, it is extremely likely that human behavior will have resulted in our own inability to survive on this planet well before the core burns out, but just because we and other things we call “life” won’t be able to exist, it doesn’t mean the planet is not engaging in a rather beautiful process of reformation. It will churn and burn and build and destroy and there will be entirely new ways of life that develop in concert with that. Our chapter will be over and yet another will begin. And another. And another . . .

When I think of all of the schoolrooms throughout the tiny slice of history that is human experience, dusty blackboards coated with the remains of millions of shellfish inhabitants of this planet, I take comfort in the idea that all of these chapters — those we experience as conscious humans, those that came before us, and those that will come after — are part of a larger construct. I’m not a godfearing lass, so I don’t think there’s any entity that’s keeping track of these tales, but I find peace in the idea that, someday, my biological presence will be transformed into something that may be stumbled upon by future forms of life and possibly be part of some minute, yet breathtaking, record of existence. That I am part of an intricate cycle of balance and rebalance, that our inability to get our shit together and inadvertently make this planet inhospitable for us is not actually the end of anything: In fact, it’s likely the beginning of a new iteration of what it means to be alive.

on the mind

On Love, and Other Pandemics

In my recently concluded Composition 2 class, which focused on literary analysis and research, we had to read everyone’s favorite twee Leonardo DiCaprio Movie: Romeo + Juliet. (You Titanic bitches better sit your asses down, I am not amused.)

Now, despite the fact that I searched for it basically my entire life — and I know that I am not entirely alone in this — love was terrifically elusive for me — and I know that I am not entirely alone in that, either. Upon a re-reading of this comedy-turn-tragedy, I realized that one of the causes of this was that fuckers like Shakespeare built it up too much. You’re thirteen and at a party (hosted by your parents, no less) and you meet the love of your life? What kind of fucking pressure is that? If that’s what we’ve been building our ideas of love on for the last few hundred years, it’s no wonder we’re all fucked up.

But what struck me even more while reading it this time is that this is not actually a play about star-crossed lovers, or even love, actually; it is one about “honor,” and how a blind adherence to such a concept ultimately results in the very chaos it was created to prevent.

And that got me thinking about current feuds; and though they may feel powerful and intense, and of an almost otherworldly nature because they call into question much of what we’ve held dear (on all sides,) they’re not, really. They’re just more of the same in the continuing evolution known as humanity. We create societies to feel safe and, in doing so, we create structures that, at some point, all must have viewed inviolable; but then we change. And so, too, must those structures — it’s just that we’re not always that skilled in keeping up with our own times.

We’re tiny and small and terrified: If there is one thing that we can all accept in our souls, however deeply and quietly and behind closed doors, I hope it’s that. We don’t know what’s going on, truly, and so we have used our amazing and literally awesome imaginations to define it. And that’s beautiful. I don’t know anything about the interior lives of beetles nor asteroids, but I have to posit that the human ability to conjure is something really fucking special, maybe even divine.

But that ability to conjure runs amok when it first becomes rote and then becomes trope. We develop structures to make us feel safe and there is nothing wrong with that; what’s wrong is when those structures become more important than the lives of others.

So Shakespeare, with all of his humor and horror and sadness and glee, tells us, hundreds of years ago, about who we are today. That we are shortsighted and vengeful and unwilling to see beyond our lenses. The fact that those lenses were initially created to bond us together and help us love each other is entirely forgotten, however, because everyone is so fucking obsessed with the size, shape, color, and design of these lenses.

But hopefully that won’t be our ultimate folly because perhaps — and, remember, I’m a fucking Pollyanna — we will crack those lenses and grind the glass beneath our feet as we march toward eachother. I mean, that would be great, right? It would be so splendid to look into each other’s eyes and, instead of seeing hatred or envy or fear or confusion, we see with clarity: Ourselves.

Because that’s fucking love; and that should be pandemic.

on the mind

Nature, time, and patience are the best physicians

Nature, time, and patience are the best physicians | Hyperpetal

I feel you.

Sometimes life is syrup slipping over a stone, and other times it's free climbing a vertical rock face without proper training nor a sense of up or down.

While the approach may differ, the central player -- that of the static earth -- remains the same. There is always a grounding force, whether or not you need it. Or find it.

So lately I have been struggling. The grounding force is there; at least, I think it is. I'm assuming it is because there is gravity and sometimes I can feel the sand between my toes. But often I feel as if I'm floating through one day and into the next and there is no end nor beginning and dreams infuse the waking hours and my waking history serves only to create painful and demented nocturnal journeys through which even the most talented somnambulist would stumble.

A friend posed this question the other day: If you could time travel to any concert, who would be the performer? Of course, my gut was Prince. Because the Tiny Purple Lady is the truest love of my life! And all our lives.

But then I reconsidered, as I did have the opportunity to see him perform live a few times (thankfully!) -- so I settled instead on Thelonious Monk.

Why Thelonious?

Chief among the reasons is that I love how unexpected his compositions are, how peculiar. He improvised all the time, so seeing him perform would be utterly new each time it happened. He is the second most recorded jazz musician (after Duke Ellington) which is impressive given his comparatively small number of compositions. While some likened him to elephants molesting pianos (which is an amazing compliment in and of itself) during his lifetime, that his work is so often performed is a testament to his art, his perspective.

He struggled with undiagnosed mental illness for most of his life, making it difficult for him to be around other people and to connect with them. He was even monosyllabic at certain points because it was difficult for him to express himself in the context of others.

Yet in his music, that motherfucker was buckwild.

The time signatures alone speak to his unique conception of chronology and space. I remember listening to a live recording of his years ago while smoking pot and sitting on an old paramour's broken down armchair. His house was located next to an airfield, and as Thelonious fervently pounded the keys to what seems like a 9/13 signature, the planes flew in low overhead, rumbling and crushing and shaking the tar paper walls.

As we listened to the song, I started counting off the crazy beat in my head (and by crazy I simply mean irregular and not often executed in popular music) and after a grip, there was a long pause -- at the end of which I perfectly punctuated the snare snap and my paramour exclaimed with surprised delight. How did you know that was when he'd come back in? What was the count? How did you know? How?

I couldn't explain it then and I cannot now, except to say that I just felt it. Viscerally. That it just felt right, at that moment, that's when he was going to come back again.

In that moment, Thelonious left, went around the room and said his hellos; he stepped outside for a smoke, hell, maybe he even strolled around the block, then he returned and slammed the door. There was a sense of peace to it, of resolution amongst the seeming chaos that silence can sometimes bring. The cacophony had a perfectly satisfying epiphany/conclusion, and I felt a warm relief in it.

Thelonious had free climbed his own personal rock face and, in that moment, poured syrup all over it.

When I think of struggles in terms of myself and Thelonious Monk (because who doesn't?) I can reframe the pain, the disconnection, the horror of everyday life that tells us our experiences aren't valid, nor should they be trusted, honored, or respected, by recognizing that while in creation we may not find peace for ourselves, we may offer it to someone else.

So, I feel you.