The angle of repose is defined on dictionary.com as “the maximum slope, measured in degrees from the horizontal, at which loose solid material will remain in place without sliding.”
Generally speaking, the smaller the material particles, the more shallow the angle before things start sliding. It is also the title of one of the books I read this year, a story about settling the American West that I’ve wanted to read for years because part of it takes place in Leadville, Colorado, a tiny mountain town where I spent part of my childhood.
Looking back on 2019, I can see how a relationship – in particular a marriage – might have an angle of repose. The loose solid material of relationships being trust, communication, kindness, forgiveness, integrity, respect. And how, if those loose building blocks, sturdy and strong at the onset of a relationship, stacked high with enough weight and friction to prevent sliding, become worn down and small over time from the normal, everyday stresses put on a marriage, let alone the abnormal, once in a lifetime ones, the angle decreases and the marriage falls flat. As Will often says to me, “marriage is not for sissies”. No. No, it is not. We are still inhabiting ours, sometimes more happily than others, but with special focus recently on the material particles of our own unique marital slope.
Every where I go, there I am. And there she is, too. The little six-year old me, carrot-topped, milk-skinned, wounded and parentless, tugging at my skirts and pant legs, waiting for the adult me to stop and pay attention.
I’ve ignored her for decades, all on the premise that time would heal my childhood wounds. That the further I ran from them, the faster they would heal. But actually, the opposite has happened. The farther I get from my childhood, the closer and more smothering it becomes, affecting my reactions and confidence at work and the quality of my relationships at home. Which is why twice a month you’ll find me in Maryetta’s office, on a long couch in front of a window looking over Mercer Street, books and a box of Kleenex to my right, a bowl of strawberry cream candies to my left, and Maryetta on a stuffed armchair directly in front of me, helping me process and parse my child and early adulthood traumas. Ironically, being at Microsoft during its own reckoning with a brutal, abusive past is aiding in my therapeutic journey. Empathy, self-awareness, and open mindsets for the win. And thank you, Michaela, for leading by example.
The first time I took Seth skiing, he was six years old. We’d flown home to Colorado to see my sisters, driving the short, white, sparkly highway through the Animas Valley between Durango and Purgatory, red bluffs on our right, granite and bare, paper-barked Aspens on our left.
The first time I took Bria skiing, she was three. We drove the wet, glistening freeway through North Bend between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass, thick evergreens and chilled moss on our right, Mount Si and Twin Peaks on our left.
Seth and me skiing at Purgatory in southwest Colorado with the Needles mountain range in the backdrop. Winter, 1993.
The first time I took Seth and Bria skiing together was when she was six and he was 31 (Michaela, as it oddly turns out, does not like the snow and cold, even though she started skiing at a young age, too). He’d flown home from Alaska for good and we drove the not-so-short cloudy highway between Seattle and Stevens Pass, strip malls and the Snohomish River on our right, Monroe and American flags on our left. Skiing is a family tradition for us and last year, we did a lot of it. I’ll never forget Seth skiing down the mountain in shorts, which is one thing if you’re doing it spring skiing in the Colorado Rockies, but quite another if you’re doing it during a cold, wet snowstorm in the foggy Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. This year, we’re heading to Idaho instead of the North Cascades to ski, continuing our tradition of a snowy, alpine Christmas.
Here are a few of my favorite holiday traditions, established and forming:
Bria and me visiting Santa after the tree lighting at Magic in the Market. Pike Place Market in Seattle, December 2017.
The thing about taking a math class is that, like exercise, it makes you feel powerful and strong.
I took a statistics course last spring to refresh my skills and to counter work-related ennui. I took statistics in college and loved it, so no surprise that my job at Microsoft these past seven years has largely focused on data visualization: i.e., the visual manifestation of statistical equations. Bria, as it turns out, is a lover of math. One of her favorite things is to spend time working in Excel. She loves it! We encourage it in whatever way possible.
Bria on her way to school in her faux glasses. Seattle, WA. October 26, 2019.
The data table Bria created observing wildlife in Discovery Park, Fall 2019. She later created her first column chart out of it in Excel.
I’ve also been taking music lessons at home for the past six months from Lucas, a six-foot tall Millennial with lefty politics, soft manners, and long ashy curls. Meanwhile, Will gets his math fixes through Bellflower (making chocolate is as mathematically geeky as it gets) and just bought a fancy Casio calculator to prep for the renewal of his Certified Energy Manager Exam. He also just now as I write, practices the piano in Idaho. Sixteen years of marriage and I did not know my husband could play?
In the muted jewel tones of a 1970s Kodak print, my 40-something mother sits on a turquoise mid-century modern sofa with me on her lap, her eyes wide and concentrated and mouth agape, cutting a toddler’s red hair. There’s a small sore on her left upper lip, red and flaky. A skin cancer, according to my older sisters. The toddler is me.
In the muted gray tones of a Seattle fall, the offices of UW Sports Medicine sit beneath Husky Stadium, just north of the Montlake Cut. The offices of UW Dermatology and Orthopedic Oncology lie above Roosevelt Avenue, a mile or so west. The offices of UW’s Foot and Ankle clinic lie five miles as the crow flies south, across Portage Bay and over Capitol Hill, kitty corner from Harborview Medical Center. 2019 was the year I spent far too much time in all of these places, growing, in my mind, shabbier and shabbier.
My visits started with a diagnosis the second week of January of a broken tailbone after I fell cross country skiing in the Methow while pulling Bria in a pulk (tailbone shortly re-diagnosed as not broken after a radiologist’s closer look). In May, I broke my right foot, the unfortunate result of running to catch a bus paired with another rider’s decision to place a metal water bottle on the sidewalk directly in my path while removing a bike from the bus’s rack.
In June, I noticed my right shoulder was swollen and after an ultrasound, an MRI, and a consultation with an orthopedic oncologist, had surgery to remove an atypical lipomatous tumor – controversially classified as benign – wrapped around my right shoulder underneath the deltoid. Lastly and shortly, because the details are too tedious, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from the upper left bridge of my nose in December. The same type of cancer pictured on my mother’s lip. The same type of cancer removed from my right hand three-and-a-half years ago. The same type of cancer that, happening this many times puts me officially in a high risk category for skin cancer recurrence.
2019 was the year I spent far too much time in all of these medical, physical, emotional places, growing shabbier and looser in the joints, yes. But also, hopefully, more and more Real.
Thank you, Nike, for this. And my dermatologic surgeon, Dr. Kampp, for this. And for my brother-in-law, John Isaacs, and sister-in-law, Sally Isaacs, both cancer researchers at Johns Hopkins University who eased my fears by helping decipher my pathology reports while I waited for my shoulder surgery follow-up.
In rowing, there are a number of drills you can do to improve your technique. You can row with straight arms. You can row at dead slide, half slide, or full slide. You can row by alternating the tips of your oars touching the water or not touching the water at all. But the one drill I find especially useful is the pause drill.
This drill involves pausing in the middle of a stroke, holding your legs flat until after your hands reach over your knees, sliding to the catch. You’re then better positioned to make a strong connection between the water and the blades, your legs following with a strong drive against the foot boards, leveraging the blades to push against the wall of water in front of them, propelling the boat through the water.
Pause drills are useful in life in general, I think, and in 2020, I want to do more of them, both in and out of the boat. Pausing to think before I speak. Pausing to breathe before I blow. Pausing to ask before I assume. Pausing to laugh before I scream. Pausing to consider before I consume.
Transforming a once bland Seattle corner with glass and exotic ferns, we went into the Amazon Spheres – contemptuously referred to in Seattle as “Jeff’s Balls” – for the first time in 2019.
Me and Will inside the Amazon Spheres. October 28, 2019.
2019 was the year that Amazon tried to buy the Seattle City Council in a failed attempt to make it more business-friendly and conservative. Let me reword: more corporate friendly. The needs of corporations are vastly different than those of small businesses. We were approached to discuss leasing options for a retail space in one of Amazon’s buildings this fall, somewhat encouraged when the agent told us that Amazon was specifically targeting small, local businesses for these particular blocks in South Lake Union (their philanthropic record in Seattle is not good). We thought this would entail some sort of creative financial programs as well, given the professed focus on helping small businesses succeed. Our balloon was burst, however, when we were told we would have to sign a personal guarantee in order to secure a lease: there is no way in hell we’re placing our assets on the table in a card game with Jeff Bezos.
Which is just as well. I was having a hard time reconciling the delta between Amazon’s values and ours. We do still want to open a retail location at some point, but que sera, sera. I can’t force things to happen the way I want them to. We did have a good summer this year at the Queen Anne Farmers Market, though, and have debuted our single-origin chocolate oat and hazelnut milks (aka, “moloko”) in two Seattle locations: Fulcrum Coffee and Cone & Steiner. We were also featured in Seattle Mag’s holiday issue. Here’s to more market reach in 2020!
One of my favorite bookstores anywhere is Peter Miller Books, a store that has seen multiple locations throughout Seattle, but is now located – with a stern sign forbidding any cell phone usage at all once you’ve crossed Peter’s threshold – in a brick building accessed via one of the city’s oldest alleys in Pioneer Square, right behind the Union Gospel Mission.
At a recent party, I was talking to Peter about an interaction he had with an Amazon executive who came in to his store to browse many years ago, telling Peter it would behoove him to get out of the bookselling business altogether before it was too late, because “Amazon is going to decimate you.” He responded by telling the guy, “Well, that’s what they told the North Vietnamese, too, and look how that turned out. Now get the hell out of my store and don’t ever come back!”
Having traveled to Vietnam in August to visit Seth, who was there visiting relatives on his step-mother’s side, I had a much more complete context in which to place Peter’s sentiment than if he’d said the very same thing to me before I left. Việt Nam, the beautiful country of dragonfruit, durian, hot, humid sweat, bánh xèo, avocados as big as melons, scooters everywhere and bánh mì. Việt Nam, the beautiful country of warm, friendly, resourceful, resilient people. Việt Nam, the beautiful country of impressive forgiveness. For whatever reason, they seem to have completely forgiven Americans for the gross blunder that was the Vietnam War.
Will and me on our foodie scooter tour around Ho Chi Minh City, August 2019.
I vowed to read a book a month in 2019. I read a total of 16. One of them was The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz.
Of all the books I read this year, this is the one whose lessons I will carry forward the farthest. Below are the four agreements, posted directly from Wikipedia.
1 / Be Impeccable With Your Word
Ruiz states that while this agreement is the most important, it is the most difficult one to honor. For this agreement, Ruiz first analyzes the word “impeccable”. The word impeccable comes from the Latin word peccatus meaning “sin”, and the “im” in the beginning of impeccable is the Latin prefix that means “without”. Ruiz describes a sin to be anything that goes against oneself, and therefore being impeccable with language means to take responsibility for one’s actions and remain without judgment against oneself and others. In essence, this agreement focuses on the significance of speaking with integrity and carefully choosing words before saying them aloud.
2 / Don’t Take Anything Personally
The second agreement provides readers with a way to deal with hurtful treatment from others that they may experience in life. It advocates the importance of having a strong sense of self and not needing to rely on the opinions of others in order to be content and satisfied with their self-image. This agreement also allows readers to understand the notion that each individual has a unique worldview that alters their own perceptions, and that the actions and beliefs of a person is a projection of their own personal reality. Ruiz believes that anger, jealousy, envy, and even sadness can lessen or dissipate once an individual stops taking things personally.
3 / Don’t Make Assumptions
The third agreement describes the issue of making assumptions, how it leads to suffering, and why individuals should not partake in making them. When one assumes what others are thinking, it can create stress and interpersonal conflict because the person believes their assumption is a representation of the truth. Ruiz believes that a solution to overcoming the act of making an assumption is to ask questions and ensure that the communication is clear between the persons involved. Individuals can avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama by not making assumptions.
4 / Always Do Your Best
The fourth agreement allows readers to have better insight on achieving progress towards their goals in life. This agreement entails integrating the first three agreements into daily life and also living to one’s full potential. It involves doing the best that one can individually manage, which varies from the different situations and circumstances that the individual may encounter. Ruiz believes that if one avoids self judgement and does their best in every given moment, they will be able to avoid regret. By incorporating the first three agreements and doing the best they can in all facets of life, individuals will be able to live a life free from sorrow and self-ridicule.
Lastly, a song I loved in 2019.
See also: How Do You Make New Friends As An Adult? Be Like the Golden Retriever. Plus links to my 2016 and 2018 reflections.