Recent Work By Quenby Moone

Cheryl Strayed and my husband Lars met when she wandered by the open window of our vacation rental in Sayulita, Mexico with her laptop open, looking desperately for a WiFi signal. She and Lars briefly bonded over their mutual and depressing need to be wired in paradise, and Lars pointed her toward a coconut palm that had the most reliable signal.

Why she needed connectivity in paradise was to communicate with her editors about the first draft of WILD, which she had delivered the day before her family left on this celebratory trip to Mexico.

On this day of Mothers, let us not just remember flowers and cute cards, or Sunday Brunch. Let us remember:

  • Some women don’t want children. Womanhood ≠ Motherhood and vice-versa.
  • Some mothers love other women. Let them do it with the full authority of the state, and all the benefits and protections that the state gives women who have children with men.
  • Some fathers are the best mothers. Some fathers love other fathers. Let them do it with the full authority of the state, and all the benefits and protections that the state gives women who have children with men.

 –or–

A Book Review Masquerading as a Memoir, or Vice-Versa, Depending on One’s Point of View and Opinion of Absurd Clothing, plus Praise to James Bernard Frost for Giving a Voice to Aging Punk Rockers. 

If ever you should have an epiphany— and I think you know what I’m talking about— latch onto it, no matter how large or small the epiphany, and try your best to make it happen. You might make a fool of yourself, but better to make fool of  yourself than to spend your life jealous of the fools. 

Bartholomew Flynn, A Very Minor Prophet

 

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jonathan Franzen.

It was because of him that I met Mira Bartók, whose book The Memory Palacementioned in an essay about Franzen’s misguided attack on eBooks. In one of those twists of meta-synchronicity that makes me suspect I’m in an episode of Star Trek, Bartók read my essay, “tweeted” it, and I—having only joined Twitter a couple weeks earlier—saw it.

 

Jonathan Franzen, author and vaunted protector of the written word, has taken the side of paper in the paper-LCD wars. Fearing that no book will remain pristine when an author (or, god forbid, some authoritarian entity) can go back to edit it, and admiring traditional text-on-paper technology, he fears the e-future and the fading of traditional books.

Here is what a book looks like when it lives on a web site. It’s not ideal. But it’s a book[esque] book, and I made it as close to book-ness as I could without handing you an actual book.

If your eyes, like mine, are tired, you can clink on the pages and they will zoom to a much more reader-friendly size.

 

 

 

 

Dear Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman,

I want to give you an update about where things stand with our son, Milo, whose eighth birthday falls coincidentally close to your trip to Portland and whom we will be surprising with a trip to Keller Auditorium to see you speak.

When I wrote you before, we were faced with Milo’s first shopping list:

Dynamite
Thermite
Cars to Blow Up

You didn’t reply, so I have to conclude you might have been a little busy blowing cars up with dynamite and thermite, and shooting Buster and his Merry Band of Human Analogues.

Or maybe you DID get my first letter and now you’re coming here to help Milo navigate the choppy waters of being a sweet, non-violent pacifist with a desire to detonate with DetCord. (I thought “Debt-Core” was a kind of music revolution raging against the injustice of the current monetary system. Turns out it’s the cable you run from TNT, just like in Road Runner cartoons.)

“I need to make some dry ice,” Milo said yesterday, as we were stumbling off to do some chore which included nothing so interesting as buying nose cones from scrapped jets, or Building a Better Buster to drop him into a reef full of sharks. “Do we have the ingredients?”

Appalled that I don’t know how dry ice is made, I told him that we didn’t have the necessary tools.

“We’ll need to pick some up,” he said, making a new shopping list in his head.

“For what?” I asked innocently, believing that maybe, just maybe, he wanted to make the bathroom sink into a steaming cauldron of wizard’s punch for fun, or learn about the scientific process called “sublimation.”

“So you take the dry ice,” he said, “and you put it in a 2 liter soda bottle.”

“Wait a minute,” dim sparks of the synaptic process chugging in my head at the speed of molasses, “is this a MythBusters thing?”

He paused. “Well…”

“‘Don’t Try This At Home’,” I admonished, repeating the words you recite before every episode like a prayer.

“But…” he said.

“‘We are what you call EXPERTS,'” I said.

“I…”

“‘We prepare weeks, and sometimes months, to do the stunts on this show.’

He stared at me. I stared back.

For the holiday break, he wanted to brush up on his Mythmania, revisiting years’ worth of MythBusters episodes; now he’s got all sorts of ideas about new projects. He wants to join the Boy Scouts because he heard he might get to shoot things. He wants us to buy him a shop vac so he can make a hover craft. When I told him he needed to start with the small-scale experiments, he looked at me like I was crazy. “Go Big or Go Home,” his expression read, one of amused superiority.

Milo wants a Newton’s Cradle now–that clever desktop toy which sits on executives desks, clicking back and forth between its five balls, proving Newton’s law of “Every Action…etc.” But I suspect Milo’s motivation is to construct a Newton’s Cradle out of a Bocci set; the small one will provide the model, and you guys already built one out of cranes and wrecking balls, so he’s willing to split the difference.

“You’re looking at a vegetarian from California,” Kari Byron narrates in your MythBusters Top 25 Moments Special, which ran in our house over the holiday break the way The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ran in everyone elses. “I never expected that I would be a gun person.”

Cut to: Kari, cute little dress flittering in the desert breeze as she blows away a tree with a gatling gun.

And it looks so fun that I too want to climb up on the back of a military jeep with a Dillon Minigun (Minigun? What the hell is mini about a machine gun which fires 30-caliber shells at 3000 rounds a minute?) to mow down a dead tree in the middle of the desert, spent shells tinkling musically to the earth in a waterfall of destructive beauty. Where do I sign up?

How do we, a bunch of card-carrying Portlanders who have raised chickens, believe in bicycles as a form of rebellion, and want organic, holy-granola-roller seaweed cookies massaged with love and first press olive oil–how do we enroll for shooting classes? Is it even allowed?!

“What were you going to use the dry ice for, anyway?”

“A dry ice bomb.”

So we’ll see you in a few weeks, the fervent glow of rapt attention bouncing off the lenses of our young son’s glasses as he files away every single scrap of information you share that evening. You’ll know him by the look of devotion to the scientific method.

If it involves “Big Boom,” anyway.

Yours sincerely,

Quenby Moone

 

PS: Milo rolls the full name of TNT off his tongue like a weapons expert: Trinitrotoluene. I can barely read it, much less say it.

PPS: And speaking of the Grinch, my kid is scared of the Grinch. He is not scared of Trinitrotoluene or gatling guns or coffee creamer explosions, but the Grinch sends him around the twist with fear.

 

 

When I was obsessing about a dog, I was concerned about my son being a singleton. I wondered if perhaps being alone with parents wasn’t such a great thing, that he needed a buffer–someone with whom he could conspire, even if the conspiracies were fantastical and impotent. Someone playful, didn’t nag. Liked to chase small objects endlessly, joyfully, unlike me.

Stanley and I

By Quenby Moone

Essay

Arguments around the dinner table are not this family’s modus operandi. Akin to intense debaters who pore over details and minutiae, eventually we realize we’re preaching to the choir and have a good laugh. Arguing is a scholarly endeavor. We leave the messy emotional disagreements for discussions. When an argument takes place it’s a remarkable occasion.

We have a happy little nuclear family, all things being equal. My husband and I had our son when we were past our exciting young adulthoods, and were married for seven years before we heeded the call to breed. It allowed us to create a good landing spot for parenting: we had fulfilled our craving for adventure in the outside world and we were more than happy to start an adventure in our house, no regrets.


In August of 1997, my Swiss roommate Romana and I dined al fresco under a pergola in an East Jerusalm hotel, a bower of grapes overhead as water babbled in a small fountain. It was a respite after four weeks of checkpoints: A suicide bomb had exploded in an open air market in July—the first in eighteen months, ending the restive but hopeful calm which captured the imagination of Israelis and Palestinians alike. The bomb ensured the full military closure of the Occupied Territories. It was also the definitive collapse of their nascent, tentative peace.

After two months living in the West Bank town of Birzeit, and one month of defying Israeli soldiers, cultural misunderstandings and witnessing true privation, we ate quietly.

We had shared these two months trying to sleep in our dingy room with bad electricity, mosquitoes, and packs of feral dogs outside our window who howled until dawn, when the Call to Prayer took over where the dogs left off.

We attended classes together on the empty Birzeit University campus, save for the fifty international students who remained there after Israel instated the complete military lockdown. Our Palestinian professors often traveled hours to and from the campus, finding ways around checkpoints, sneaking through farmers’ fields; or were hassled by teenage soldiers, who menaced and humiliated them from behind their Oakley sunglasses, machine guns at the ready and chips on their shoulders. All the Palestinian students were forced back to their home villages, postponing their education another month, two. Six.

We floated like ghosts through their dusty, abandoned campus.

Now we sat in East Jerusalem. The program was concluded. We were going home.

Our Palestinian friends could not leave. These were the terms of living in these few square miles of land: militant radicals wreaking havoc on their lives in an instant, calling down the wrath of the stronger, more well-equipped adversary. The stress of living under military shut-down was constant and non-negotiable.

A kitten sat at my feet, mewling.

I was going to see my own cat, in my own dingy apartment, which now seemed the epitome of Western excess with our second-hand furniture and motley set of chipped Ikea dishes. I absently pulled a piece of turkey from my sandwich and dropped it in the dust at my feet.

A pregnant cat leapt from a hiding spot and pounced on the kitten, hissing as she scarfed the meat. Then she climbed up my jeans, into my lap and onto the table while the kitten cried on the ground. She climbed onto my plate to steal the meat from my sandwich. I laughed, scraping the queen off of me, but she was hungry and I was an idiot. She scratched me with her claws, too desperate for the turkey to let me get between it and her unborn, hungry kittens.

The kitten mewled, the tender morsel of food so tantalizingly close and then stolen, while dining Palestinians politely turned away, noting the general foolishness of the Western tourist.

My roommate and I dropped shekels on the table and fled, laughing as we went, forced from the restaurant by hunger.

Here, even the cats were living under terms we didn’t understand.

I haven’t been able to write lately.

I didn’t think it was because I couldn’t write, but because my life had become so busy with things outside of literary concerns that I couldn’t scrape together a few sentences out of the limited time allotted to my packed days.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

–The Graduate, 1967

 

Before British Petroleum botched the most spectacular oil disaster in the history of our petro-based culture [addendum: the most spectacularly publicized oil disaster: turns out NIGERIA HAS IT WORSE, but no-one knows about it or gives a fig], I was already thinking about petroleum. Or using less of it. I’m a conscientious person; I don’t want to use more than my fair share of resources, nor do I embrace the notion that if I can buy it, I should. I want to live lightly without becoming a monk; I would like to share the wealth of natural resources without raping the earth for them.

I’m an American Consumer™, but I do my best to keep my insatiable desire for convenience in check. I’ve got the cloth bags for groceries, using them most of the time but forgetting them some of the time. I bought our son little reuseable lunch bags; we have a Mr. Bento food jar for him to take hot lunches to school. We drink from metal water containers. Our family has one car which gets 50 miles to the gallon on the highway by merit of its awesome diesel-ness; we can fill it with Biodiesel when it’s available (although biodiesel has turned food crops into fuel crops in certain parts of the world, making a huge rice shortage in Asia highlighting the fact that the consequence of any “alternative” fuel is that it has unintended ones). We’ve had it almost ten years; we hope that we’ll just drive it to its obsolescence, though once in a while I think how nice it would be to have more space.

But that’s what Zipcar is for.

We’re wimpy bicyclists, I’m ashamed to admit. I need to buy better rain gear, but since I can’t be bothered to buy myself regular clothing it seems that practical rain solutions have just fallen right off the list.

This is not my concern, however. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how to eradicate plastic out of our lives which, with the passage of time seems absolutely paramount in not completely destroying ourselves and everything else.

Plastic: convenient, ubiquitous poison. The road to hell is paved with it.

I don’t quite remember what it was like to look around a house and not being able to identify fifty different things which were composed partially of plastic. Maybe it never happened in my life. My parents had Tupperware after all, and I had that Fisher Price Corn Popper push toy which, looking at a photo of it, is made completely out of plastic. But with all the news about Bisphenol A and floating islands of toxic plastic garbage in the ocean (the size of Texas or larger and growing); water bottles filling landfills after you drink their tap-water contents, it seems like we’ve become too accustomed to welcoming plastic into our lives unquestioned and unchallenged.

Here’s a list of petroleum-based products from my vantage point on the sofa. I’m looking no further than what I can see; I’m not going into the kitchen where god knows what sort of plastic horrors await me.

  • DVD and Wii Game cases, with the discs themselves.
  • Cables and plugs running from our computers to speakers and television
  • speaker housing
  • computer cases
  • remote controls
  • keyboard and mouse
  • television
  • laundry bag made of nylon
  • packing tape on Amazon box
  • dog crate made of nylon or acrylic fabric
  • Ikea storage drawers
  • acrylic wall paint, plus dyes
  • spiral binder
  • Drinky the Crow (admittedly awesome)
  • paperback books with stain-resistant coating on their covers, hundreds of them
  • dog toys
  • polyurethane on the fir floors
  • iPhones (two)
  • shoulder bag
  • acrylic stuffing in leather sofa
  • vinyl Oregon Zoo decals mounted in our window
  • inserts for throw pillows
  • adhesive on non-skid feet for our tables and chairs
  • dog collar and one dog tag
  • step stool
  • cotton-poly blend curtain backing
  • outlet and light plates
  • Toys, in such great numbers that I can’t help but swoon a little, including:
  1. A “Marble Maze” (fifty pieces or more)
  2. Automoblox
  3. Legos (thousands of individual petroleum pellets)
  4. Fisher Price Camera
  5. Crayola markers and pens
  6. Hyper Dash (one plastic controller and four plastic disks)
  7. Playmobil (again, hundreds of little petro-pellets in the form of awesome birds, pirates, bicycles and treasure)
  8. Bag containing binoculars, plus the binoculars themselves
  9. Rody the Ride-On Pony

Shockingly, I’m relieved there isn’t more. We’ve gone out of our way to buy furniture that is either antique, used or made of natural wood, not MDF. Our house is filled with photos and paintings which have wood frames and glass instead of plastic, and most of our tchotchkes are ancient fripperies which, by merit of their ancientness are made of metal or porcelain or wood. Not all, certainly, but most. Many of our son’s toys were bought with avoiding plastic in mind; Automoblox are wood with plastic parts; his building blocks are wood; Tinker Toys, wood with plastic parts.

But I’ve looked through my house on numerous occasions looking for ways to go on a plastic diet. Why are all of our shampoos and liquid soaps, household cleaners in plastic? Glass, of course, is too heavy to ship and adds cost in FUEL. I buy bulk shampoo and bulk conditioner but fill them from plastic jugs. My husband shaved his head twenty years ago and never looked back, eradicating the need for hair products in any form; maybe I should do that, too.

But his razors? Plastic, with metal blades. Is it straight-razor time? A good idea, but I fear he would never sharpen the damned thing and always be nicked. Plus, I don’t know if I would want him to shave the back of his head without a safety razor. Call me crazy.

I’ve tried to prune the plastic storage containers out of our kitchen by replacing them with glass, not just because I want to stop the petroleum glut but because there are so many studies about chemicals leaching into food and beverages. But food comes from stores…in plastic. Yogurt comes in plastic tubs which don’t even have lids anymore which makes it impossible to reuse them. Even hippy-health-nuggets come in plastic containers; buy cookies with organic flour blessed by virgins and they’re still wrapped in cellophane-wrapped extruded plastic sepulchers. If you buy bulk, the bags are plastic. The grease pens used to write on the tag: plastic.

Buying local is of course the best way to cut down on your petro-consumption, not just because the distance the food travels is shorter, thereby lowering your petro footprint, but you inject money into local businesses, farms and growers which need less packaging to transport their goods. By buying at your farmer’s market you’re often just plucking veggies from a box and putting them in your cloth bag. Win-win!

That’s great for me here in Portland, Oregon where we can grow food almost year round. What about you people stuck up on a mountain top? Or in the desert? What are you gonna eat? Stuff that’s been shipped, and wrapped in plastic.

I bought some lotion in a glass bottle, hoping that I would somehow be lightening the load; the pump is plastic. Our toothbrushes: plastic. Dental floss: plastic. I’ve never seen a cardboard container for dental floss; maybe it’s not practical. But how do we decide which is the most necessary plastic to hang onto and which is okay to stop producing? Obviously, we want our hospitals and doctors to have access to hygienic plastic doobobs and sterile plastic this’s-and-that’s so that they can keep us alive when we show up for their services. But what about the crackers I buy? You remember when crackers came in waxed paper bags inside cardboard boxes? But do we even need the boxes, much less the bag inside?

Blister packs, cheese wrappers, cellophane on popsicles, laundry soap packaging, grocery bags, soda bottles, mayonnaise jars, pepper grinders, disposable pens, patio furniture. When did Grey Poupon go to plastic? I bought excess mustard the other day just so I could get the glass jar instead.

You outdoorsy types (I’m embarrassingly indoorsy in the Great Backyard of Oregon) appreciate nature in all it’s splendor and thus it attunes you to the necessity of conservation and environmental protection, but you’re all stomping around the wilderness in your Gore-Tex and Weather-Blok Super Materials made from various chemically bonded magic beans and petroleum. Your tents are made out of them too. As are your boots and your hats and gloves.

Do I have an alternative for you to consider? No.

And this is the problem, I think, with all of us. We don’t know how to unwind the Gordian knot of petroleum which has threaded our entire lives in scads of plastic. I want to be the best, wisest, well-informed consumer I can be, but some things I just can’t figure out how to get away from. Buy bulk, sure. Drive less, yes–oh, yes. But the cheese I buy from the tiny local market down the street–they wrap their cheese in butcher paper…coated with plastic.

And I don’t know what’s right. Research is conflicting about paper vs. plastic. Paper doesn’t biodegrade any better than plastic when it’s anaerobic. That’s why we have 2000 year old Egyptian papyrus scrolls from ancient dump sites. Cut a tree down, you’ve lost a great air filter. Some studies point to plastic bags making far less of a carbon footprint than paper for a whole host of reasons from the production process to the loss of habitat. What to do?

And I don’t mean my grocery bags. What about all the food that is in my grocery bags?

My husband and I were deliberating about this the other day. I remembered a story about an American woman living in a small Italian town where every year during the olive oil pressing, people would grab their jugs and wander down to get their supply for the year. Wine too. Everyone had some barrels or jugs in which to store their staples, not terribly different from the Roman, Greek and Phoenician amphorae of ancient times.

Would I be comfortable buying a barrel of wine to keep in my basement, along with a jug of olive oil? Could I split a barrel with my neighbors? Every year, could we buy a share of wine from a local winery? I know people do it with cows and pigs; there are CSA’s for organic vegetables (good way of avoiding petroleum; no petro-based fertilizers or pesticides). Can we extend the method? How about my crackers? Could I just purchase them not in a box at all, but a bulk bin where I stash them in my handy-dandy metal cracker tin (standardized so that the weight PLU’s would be easy)? How can we peel away the layers and layer of plastic and replace them with honest to god solutions?

I don’t ever want buy a CD or DVD again; if it’s digital data, I want to download it. No more goddamned plastic cases. No more DVD coasters with crappy slideshows on them. No more plastic deck chairs and MDF landfill furniture. And stop with the “goody bags” at kid’s birthday parties, already. I don’t need them and I can’t remember if my son ever played with any of the plastic junk that was in them anyway. Bring back waxed paper for wrapping things, go to Depression-era standards of frugality instead of post-war standards of excess. Keep up with the Joneses by keeping plastic out of landfills.

Maybe I’m being utopian and naive. The back-to-the-land movement was idealistic, but in the end completely impractical. We can’t all be homesteaders. We can have Victory Gardens, but it won’t supply our grain needs. We can buy locally baked bread, but the flour isn’t being ground at the mill next door. It’s being trucked in. We can’t all spin our own yarn from our pet sheep Lulu so as to avoid wool sweaters polluted with spandex and petro costs shipped from Turkmenistan.

But I’m comfortable with the hypothesis that something’s got to give. Building high-speed rail would help, as would more of us riding our bikes. I don’t think it’s enough, though, and I don’t want to contribute any more to the enormous flotilla of garbage in the Pacific. I want less plastic. I want corporations to produce less plastic. I want the chemical devastation of plastic-creation to cease, or at the very least drop dramatically. I’ve wanted less plastic for years, but the BP oil spill and the Pacific Garbage Patch have only emphasized the point in a radical and devastating loss of land, ocean, livelihoods and sea life. As if I needed any convincing.

But maybe I can convince someone who makes my crackers or olive oil. Or someone who wants to loan me their sheep.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A few years ago, I put a bird feeder in the back yard. I had landscaped everything to verdant idyll, making it a perfect sanctuary for my avian pals, save for the cats. But one was a scaredy-cat who had no backbone for hunting, and one was so fat from her eating disorder that she posed no threat as she and her impressive girth thundered across the yard. The birds could see her coming a mile away.

The last words in my book Living in Twilight were written last night. I celebrated in a not-very-bold statement on Facebook, tempered by my wuss-tastic addition of “I think” preceding “I’m done.” This raises these points:

The book isn’t done.

I have a lot of laundry to do.

My son is not impressed.

My skills as a writer will now be tested to pen a really excellent cover letter to faceless people who will judge whether or not my book is a worthy book or just another book.

If it’s deemed just another book, I will be depressed. Then I will look at the bookshelves in Powell’s and weep because there are so many “just another book” books being sold in great numbers.

If my book is a worthy book, it will be a very long time before I hold a copy in my hands.

Also, people will read all about my family and what a bunch of heathens we are. I fear a great backlash from the Religious Right.

On the other hand, nothing speaks to PR like backlash. Maybe I’ll send a copy to the Religious Right.

The title has nothing to do with vampires, Edward, Bella or werewolves. People who look at my book because they associate “twilight” with “Edward” will be gravely disappointed when they read a book about my Dad.

Dad really liked vampire stories though.

Maybe it is about vampires!

No, it’s really not. It’s about cancer.

The New York Times Book Review already hates my book because it’s about a parent with cancer. They said so in a column written last month. This is disconcerting.

Who the hell is The New York Times, anyway? Some old Grey Lady? Whatever. My book is a Four-Color Diva with attitude, bitches!

Speaking of color, because my book has full-color paintings and drawings on almost every spread, it’s going to be an expensive MF to print.

iPad.

Wait. Am I cheating on my beloved books if I recognize the value of digital bytes?

Damn. This book really deserves ink and paper.

This is just a subjective opinion, of course.

Though the correct one.

The book is done in one sense: I wrote the last line. Now I have to find all the dimensions of all the art featured in the book. There’s a lot of it. All the titles. Dad was pretty crummy about writing titles on things. Re-shoot pictures which are blurry. I’m a fairly crap photographer. Thank god my brother is a pro – he shot everything else.

Oops. There are two unfinished chapters.

Lucky for me the last line of the book is, “There is no last chapter.”