The singer-songwriter stepped away from music to pursue an M.F.A. in fiction and returned with her most personal sonic document.
“I’ve taken to exploring the land around me, finding lakes hidden in the pine trees, getting lost, learning to feel comfortable not knowing where I’m going,” wrote Laura Gibson from an A-frame cabin in the mountains of central Oregon during the winter of 2013. Equipped with snowshoes and solitude, Gibson was focusing on her fourth album while also taking time out to teach songwriting to middle and high school kids in Sisters, Ore. Those thematic echoes of teaching, pine trees, solitude, being lost, and searching for a dark lake would reverberate on her new album, Empire Builder.
Gibson didn’t initially think of herself as a writer. “I had great science teachers and math teachers but I didn’t know what words could do,” she explains. “It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I grew myself into a writer. It was only a few years ago I started to believe that I might be able to write something outside of music.”
With that belief, she boarded a train headed east on the famous Empire Builder Amtrak route. She left behind her boyfriend, family, friends and her Portland music community to teach undergraduate writing and pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing at Hunter College in New York City.
“I’m sad,” I tell her, looking for analog
in a world of constant digital connection.
“I know,” she said, “you used to write
great letters, too, and you know a lot of people,
but you just need your roots.”
“Go outside and listen,” my mother advises.
Outside, I see all the life looking for hands,
all the living things that need me back,
and I understand what they want—
flowers for vases, tomato vines withering
but weighted with so much pendulous red.
It’s all thirsty, even the sunflowers nod and
hang their heads.
The fires are burning still, more now every day
acres of smoke closer still than farther away.
It’s hard to see, so I listen.
Windchimes in a dusty breeze, paper crisp rose edges
and black spotted leaves. A dog barks, children scream
playing near dark, screeching brakes, and the Jade District
festival thick with voices and music, pounding echoes,
War drums sound, apocalypse theater, Taiko, large and loud. I reach for shears,
and go to ground. I pull the small dandelion fluff of lettuce tops
into a silver kitchen bowl, swirl until the seeds release
the temple drums continue, the clouds go grey
the rusty gate opening screech call of a Scrub Jay
pecking black seeds from under the yellow bonnet,
the neighborhood, haunted.
The early dusk, a yellow-green cyclone sky,
wildfires make for softbox sunsets in the summertime,
the dried up lake beds reveal ancient forests,
the grass has all died, save for the clover.
We may need them when this is all over.
“Go outside and listen,” she said.
I don’t see any people,
but I hear them all.
I like idea of the power in a name. Special words ascribed to objects and people of significance. A name that’s handed down, borrowed, or given as an homage or blessing—a name that becomes familiar or famous. A name that implies layers of meaning and strata. A name that opens doors and breaks barriers. A name that when called or written, works like an incantation on the forces of the universe. Rockstars. Magicians. Dignitaries. Gangsters. Kings and Queens. Spiritual Leaders. Deities.
No offense to the multitude of Bob Smith(s) out there, (Robert Smith of The Cure, notwithstanding) but wouldn’t you rather be named something like, say, Robert Gerald Mondavi? His is one example of a name with power and his legacy was in the game of naming things—specifically, wine.
Mondavi “aggressively promoted labeling wines varietally rather than generically.” He believed we should know the true nature of something. Instead of us saying, “Oh, I like Franzia, Gallo, Paul Masson, or Carlo Rossi, (cheap, brand name jug wines from California) or “I like ‘Burgundy’ or ‘Chablis,’ (terms that were meant to conjure the French regions and corresponding varietals they were supposed to taste like), Mondavi wanted us to challenge the assumed knowledge of regionally grown varietals and clearly identify the grape right there on the label. This is now the standard for the way we label New World wines.
In a pinnacle move to merge the Old World and the New into one grand opus, Mondavi went to the Big Island of Hawaii and met with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild to found the joint venture, Opus One. Their intention and idea was one they kicked around since the early 1970s—to create a single Bordeaux style blend based upon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The Baron’s name gave the Napa wine region a respectable air, and it quickly became the most expensive Californian wine during its time.
But the stars didn’t always align . . .
When Robert Mondavi Winery went from a private family named estate into a publicly traded corporation (a move that Mondavi stated regret over), The Robert Mondavi Corporation ballooned into a behemoth that owned several wineries at home in North America and partnered with prestigious wineries abroad. A succession of unfortunate events came on the heels of the Y2K panic—the economy tanked, 9/11 happened a year later in 2001, and wine sales were way down. In a hostile takeover bid of more than $1 billion, Mondavi scrapped the whole sordid plan and sold off his luxury brands to Constellation Brands, the hydra beast of beer, wine and spirits who gnashed at and absorbed his legacy.
Mondavi left his own board as ambassador and partnered back in with the family. With his youngest son Tim and daughter Marcia, they created a single wine from a single estate at the highest level. The family partnership Continuum Estate is still run by Robert’s son, daughter, and grandchildren Carissa, Chiara, Carlo, and Dante Mondavi (how about THOSE names?!). Thus in the continuum of things, he tried to get back to to the original idea of good food, good wine, and good family to share it with. His name was on the label of many philanthropic ventures—he donated millions to his alma mater to create an institute dedicated to the food and wine sciences as well as the performing arts. In the end, he was back to where he started and among those closest to him who shared his name and his passions. He died peacefully at home at the age of 94.
Having a background of wine knowledge myself and having drunk (and been drunk) on a wide array of wine, I know that even a name doesn’t guarantee standards, flavor profile, consistency, anything really. Terroir is just as crucial in plant genetics as it is in humans. We are built, or damaged by our biology (geology), geography, and the climate of the place and people we interact with. The way we express ourselves and the way we grow is dependent on all of that plus the weather. We are also subject to those pesky, but necessary insects and undesirable diseases. Although some diseases, as in the case of Botrytis infection known as “noble rot” in full-ripened grapes make for a kinder boon. The wine made from grapes picked at a perfect point during the moldy infestation can produce a fine and concentrated sweet wine said to have an aroma of honeysuckle and a bitter finish on the palate. We as humans, can choose to be either sweet or bitter from our miseries.
But isn’t it nice to think, we can remake and reinvent ourselves or even return to ourselves? Or just reNAME ourselves, like most young people who flirt with the idea of running away or changing their name—we want to have our names roll of the tongue, thick as honey, golden and royal. Penetrable as common knowledge. As rich and well-established as old vines grapes. We start out and continue searching for our own power and control over our lives and destinies. We break and change and reconfigure. We try to escape who we are, where we come from. Sometimes to come back and sometime to never look back. Women take a name, add a name, hyphenate a name, or leave name behind when they join forces in love and marriage or business. We set out “make a name for ourselves” like it’s a rise to fame, or a numbers game, and perhaps, we discover our true nature along the way come to peace with a name that suits us well.
Now, getting briefly back to wine . . . of course, you must be a certain percentage of a varietal (with an allowance for some mixing) to be considered “authentic,” and claim your name, so I got to thinking about what kind of math goes into being 100% Andrea Janda and the numbers in my name.
So—here’s a fun little witchy exercise in frequency and numerology on the power of my name from nameanalyzer.net
A (4x) • N (2x) • D (2x) • R (1x) • E (1x) • J (1x)
Influence of the letters in Andrea Janda name:
Numbers and Tarot cards are behind each letter of Andrea Janda name. A brief description, explanation of the meaning of each letter:
Short description of meaning
Creative, Inventive, Intuitive
Determined, Persistant, Idealist
Wise, Crafty, Daring, Inventive
Wheel of Fortune
Optimist, Opportunist, Enterpreneur
Healer, Wise, Survivor, Crafty
Patient, Determined, Strong
HEARTS DESIRE NUMBER Andrea: 1+5+1=7. Reduced: 7 .
Janda: 1+1=2. Reduced: 2 .Hearts desire number for Andrea Janda name (calculated from vowels) is Nine.The hearts desire number represents your innermost desires and longings. This number closes the gap between how you feel people see you and the way they see you. It also relates to the subjective, inner aspects of your life, and improve relationships.
Life Expression number (DESTINY NUMBER) Andrea: 1+5+4+9+5+1=25. Reduced: 7.
Janda: 1+1+5+4+1=12. Reduced: 3.Destiny number for Andrea Janda name (calculated from all characters) is One. Also known as Name Number. It relates to your vibration in this world; how you express yourself in the many outer experiences of your life, birth given talents to be developed, and tasks you must achieve in this life.
So let me just jump right in here and catch you up on the post-Holiday bliss . . . .
December was a CRAZY month. A car accident followed by a week-long visit from my sister & brother-in-law that involved beer tastings, strippers, lost IDs, credit cards, medication, a “Getting To Know You” session with the TSA, a flurry of found & lost employment, a crippling snow storm and a major abdominal surgery . . .
Not much of a Christmas & New Year’s, but – what can you do? Life intervenes sometimes and puts the smack down on all your sparkly plans.
So yeah, from car to job and health matters – it’s been buckets of suck lately, but thank goodness i have my Joe, for better or worse and all.
The Bunny Goes Bang . . .
Joe and i were in a car accident early in December (my poor VW Rabbit). We were simply dropping off a friend so she could avoid taking the bus. Luckily, it was a slo-mo, non-jarring crash that no one was hurt in. In short, some jackoff signaled to go right, then changed his mind and veered into us, even though his lane had ended. This sent us banging into the large SUV to our left, effectively smashing my left quarter panel, taking out the left headlight cluster and ripping my bumper off in one arc over my hood and into the street behind us.
i was all in my Zen-state, post-yoga and coolly remarked from the passenger seat, “well, there goes the bumper,” as it sailed overhead. I was not pleased to discover the no-fault law here in Oregon. The police didn’t even take a report?!?! But we did have two witnesses who volunteered information without even being asked, so it was clearly NOT our fault. i rode home with the bumper in the backseat curled up on the ends like a big, red-lipped smile while the broken eye of the headlamp cluster sat dark and blinded in the trunk.
Surprisingly, all told, it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Even though it was several days before my sister & brother-in-law was scheduled to visit us from Indianapolis and i thought, “great, now what?” The body shop took us VERY early the next morning and gave us a free loaner car, a pimp-ass white ’00 Ford Taurus with the body shop name emblazoned on the doors. The smell of faux strawberry walloped you in the face when you got in, which was better than say, cigarette smoke, though the history of burn marks dotted the seats exposing the fleshy, pale foam below. Then i discovered the source of the scent.
There was a Little Trees air freshener hanging from the steering wheel. This reminded me of an old friend Dave, who became a police officer and used a special sort of profiling. He noticed that a high proportion of criminals in an effort to mask the smell of open intoxicants and / or drugs have an awful lot of the Little Trees air fresheners hanging from air vents and from their rearview mirrors. He referred to these collections as a “felony forest” and a sure sign of unlawful nonsense being perpetrated. So, in all of its red and white, cloyingly fruit-scented glory, i thereby dubbed the pimp car “Strawberry Shortcake Mobile.”
We had the estimate the next day – $5,081.00 worth of damage (we merely paid the $200 deductible). All of this was completed within a week and my car looked factory show room new. Plus – anyone getting $2,000 worth of work done qualifies for their “Detail For Life” plan, which entitles me to come in four times a year and they will clean the inside and polish up the outside of the car for FREE. Even if i sell the car, for the life of the car. The body work also took care of all minor road, gravel, dings scrapes and insults on the first half of the car since i owned it, so THAT was great too!
Jobless but not Hopeless . . .
Joe is happy & successful with his job at PSU and thank goodness he has a good salary and has made good friends & contacts with his workmates. My job search, not so much. Not since October. i started one, then had my driver’s window smashed & my car broken into while working. i could see someone else nearby had the ol’ window trick pulled on them as well. It was next to a dimly lit playground, plenty of places for crazies to crouch. No way i was hanging out there. i drove home sitting on a grocery bag that nite and had the police come to my house to take the report.
To work there, i was spending more money on transportation and parking (unsafely) than i was making and was generally miserable serving happy hour food to VIPs (Visibly Intoxicated Pricks), hotel and rich asshole marina guests. Nice enough people to work for & with, but i am accustomed to a much faster pace and different atmosphere. i quit that job.
i was also interviewed by a winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle (Erath) one of the oldest in Oregon wine country, until Cigarette giant Altria Group, which owns Marlboro, announced an agreement on Sept. 8 to buy smokeless tobacco firm UST for $10.4 billion. As part of the deal, Altria acquired UST’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In all that, the position fell through or more or less, evaporated when they began reorganizing.
i also interviewed with a woman who was opening a new wine shop. i suspect her bank backing bottomed out or perhaps she chose someone else, either way – i haven’t heard from her again. i worked one day at another wine shop. a week later, he reneged his offer and sent me a check for my time. no loss, i’m afraid i was a bad fit and didn’t make the cheerleading cuts anyway.
i’m sure everyone’s been saturating themselves in the depressing news about the shitty US economy, banks, mortgage crisis, unemployment rates & the systems supporting it crashing & drained. All bad news about how it affects things both locally and globally and i am here to tell you, it’s no bullshit. Being in the service industry, i am also keenly aware that dining out is one of the first things to be culled, the first belt hole to cinch up from the family budget, making my employment search options even more grim.
Then i read this article: Portland’s restaurant scene in trouble. And thought – well hell . . . no wonder i can’t find fuck-all for work! so, i may want to reconsider my line of inquiry and use some of my other “job skills.” this of course being freelance photography or administrative desk slave. i may just start writing that novel i’ve been threatening for years. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Hope & Change guy has in mind and more, what he puts into action.
Briefly, the beer & the boobs . . .
my sister’s visit was mostly, fun. and there are stories i could tell which were hinted at in the opening paragraph, but i will protect the innocent and spare my sister and her husband the embarrassment of me airing a couple kooky escapades that ended in ill consequences . . .
It was during the week of my sister’s visit that i had the surgery consult after an ultrasound revealed several 2mm stones in that useless little bile storing organ, so it slowed things down considerably for us, in a city known for, in addition to its natural beauty, quirky places and fresh local food, its prevalence of brew pubs and strip clubs.
Now – before i get into this last bit, make no mistake, we are eating, and living and loving and surviving just fine. Oregon is wonderful; Portland was not a bad move and my Joe and i are as happy & close as ever, Just little irritating life issues have been getting in the way, like, my gallbladder, for instance.
but let me back up . . .
You Don’t Have The Gall . . .
i had an episode several weeks back where i was waiting to see Quantum Of Solace on Sunday’s opening weekend when, apropos of nothing, i had extreme abdominal pain and pressure – it was so bad and intense i thought it was a heart attack. or a really bad taco. Joe refunded our tickets and drove me home immediately. I thought for sure i would have to go to the emergency room! Turns out that time and the 5 repeat performances afterward were gallbladder attacks. I had a mean, miserable headache for three days after the first one!
and let me tell you – i don’t wish that pain on anyone!
It was as if my body were hi-jacked, my heart pounded, i would sweat and waves of nausea built up into a high pressure weather system that radiated pain concentrated in the center of my chest, lateral right, and shoulder. then i’d wretch and writhe for anywhere from 30 mins to more than an hour until it passed. no position, being still, Maalox or movement eased the pain. the only thing that seemed to mitigate it somewhat was glugging down a big glass of water as the attack symptoms began and i began to ride it out.
Generally, i just felt sorta weak, dizzy & fatigued and simply tried to make myself comfortable, warm, sleep a lot and took it really easy. i’d have several hours a day where i felt good and tried to do some writing and editing photos or read or catch a flick, just to keep myself occupied.
i had another bout of a lesser attacks on and off over several nites following the first major attack, these while my sister was in town. It was all i could do to try to be remotely fun, a decent host, and not a total drag. Those tail end attacks were mostly just overwhelming nausea, pressure, heart pounding, then sudden drop in blood pressure and dizziness (like fainting), the sudden multiple bowel movements/diarrhea (sorry, TMI all indications of a sick gallbladder), but at least it didn’t include any monstrous pain or vomiting. i had some anti-nausea medication (Phenegran), and i took only 1/2 a Vicodin a few times to stave off any pain.
Eating was scary as you can imagine. everything i put into my mouth i worried about, “what will trigger an attack, this time?” i felt WAY too full after even a small meal (which was mostly, lite protein, soups, the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), juices, mint tea, gingerale, etc.) Despite all that, i sometimes felt like there was a lump in my throat, as if it were food that hadn’t gone down. a sort of creepy indigestion. This really pissed me off, and since i love food, i grew quickly fed up with the baby diet!
i was of course, drinking lots of water & tried to avoid any fatty foods or anything that might trigger an attack & send the gallbladder into secretion or action or whatever it is that it does to try to clear out the multiple stones that are in there. Thus, the suggestion that i hydrate more than usual and at the onset of attack, drink down a big glass to try to i guess, move the bile along.
None of this is fun to read, i imagine, but i suppose it helps me to assess what i experienced and to tune in with my body, recounting what i had to do to nurse myself along until i had that evil little sack of pearls out of there! So – thank you for taking the time . . .
“Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful” – But The Fire Inside My Gut Isn’t So Great Either . . .
i was supposed to have my surgery on December 22nd, except, my surgery was canceled due to SNOWPOCALYPSE 2008. ( SEE my photographic evidence). Or as the local news kept referring to it “Arctic Blast.” It was reported as the most snow they’ve seen in Portland in 40 years, and in its soft, white fluffy beauty, it went about crippling the city, crushing public transportation, grinding everything to a halt. The more the snow fell, the more my anxiety mounted. i worried that in the case of an extreme emergency, we were clearly going to have a difficult to impossible time even getting out.
We were lucky enough to have already purchased snow chains from a quick jaunt Joe and my brother-in-law, Flounder took out to Bagby Hot Springs the week before the real snow hit. As the mayor, Sam Adams (yeah, like the beer guy with the funny bowl cut) reported on the news, snow chains were required to travel on Portland roads, but were also SOLD OUT locally. How helpful. We got to try them out a few days before and survived our maiden voyage out to get cat food and return & rent new DVDs for the Holiday pre-surgery stretch.
The only trouble we had was getting back into the garage, if you can believe it. It was messiest in our back alley, kind of a dirty slushie. One of the chains twisted up & fell off, we retrieved it, got a little mired on an ice patch, and i pushed Joe into the driveway, but then the garage door opener and track decided NOT to work. It’s probably an easy fix, but nothing wrong with using our hands to pull the door open in the meantime of investigation. Luckily, it warmed up and some of the snow turned to rain and the roads became only slightly less sloppy the following week.
While the white shit was busy falling in heaps and mounds from the sky, it was three days before someone even answered the god damned phone at the surgery center’s office! This did not contribute to my sense of well-being. When i finally did get a human, Rose, the frazzled sistah on the other end, was mumbling some nonsense about the schedule being pushed into February, to which i declared shenanigans, “i am not waiting and feeling like this with pain, nausea and strict diet management,” i calmly explained to her. i knew it was “elective” surgery, but i was voting to have it out ASAP. So she “caught up” with the doctor and i was rescheduled for the following Monday the 29th. Sad that i have to raise hell to advocate for my own health care. but it was my first major abdominal surgery and i wanted it over with!
The F criteria . . . family, flights, fairness – does FUCK this count?
It’s been a frustrating, confusing health journey, seeing as how i am otherwise, the picture of supposed health – good diet, whole, organic foods when possible, yoga & exercise, 119 lbs, low LDL, normal EKG, healthy heart & lungs, liver function healthy and all other bloodwork levels completely within normal ranges, including thyroid. Even my surgeon said i don’t really fit most of the F criteria (Female, 40, Fat, Fertile & Fair) and remarked questioningly “doesn’t seem fair does it?” In my case, estrogen in my oral contraceptives & the environment, and family history (my aunt) might be the only risk indicators.
My mother’s initial flight had also been canceled, not enough snow plows in the city or de-icers for the planes. But she was able to rebook, came out Sunday and stayed for a week while i recovered at home. Sure, the main calming factor is, my mother is a nurse and she was able to help Joe administer my post-surgery care, but really, when i get down to the basic emotional component of what was happening to my body, i wanted my mommy!
Ladies & Gentlemen, Nurses, Anesthesiologists and a Surgeon! The Main Event . . .
The laparoscopic surgery (cholecystectomy) involved four small incisions for light, scope, suction and instruments, and they pulled that sucker out through an incision above my belly button. Weee! It’s same day outpatient (unless they have to convert to an open cholecystectomy), routinely safe, well-practiced and the most commonly performed surgery. So, you know, i made sure i tortured myself on the internet, reading up on all the truly rare complications incurred during or after, until i whipped myself up into hypochondriac frenzy. i don’t recommend this method of education, but i was prepared for the worst, so i came out with just about the best, of course.
i scrubbed up the nite before with special special surgery soap called CHG (Chlorhexidine Gluconate). It was all wrapped in foil and had a spongy side to wet and release soap and scrubby side to get under nailbeds. It was quite a humbling ritual to remove my wedding bands, my moonstone rings, the small drop earrings i haven’t taken out in more than 6 years, my moonstone necklace & toe rings. And then, the morning of my surgery, absent of all body decoration, i used the second CHG provided me and was instructed – “no shaving, no deodorant, no lotion, no perfume.” No germs. No scent. No signature.
i showed up in comfy clothes, at the Sunnyside Medical Center, had 2-hour prep which included consent forms, a nurse to take my information, a nurse to start my IV, plus an anesthesiologist and his nurse with another battery of questions.
“Do you have anything of value, any jewelry, electronics, medications . . .” the nurse rattled off a big list in rapid fire succession.
“No. No. No No, nope. Nothing. i come to you naked and without frills.” i answered lightheartedly.
She laughed and gave me a big plastic snap bag with the words PATIENT BELONGINGS and a name & info sticker on the front, then told me to take everything off and put on the lavender colored hospital gown that had the words “Bair Paws” and a little foot print of a bear track scrawled across my heart. Now let me “paws” a moment. Go ahead. Groan. i don’t care. This was one of the best things i’ve ever experienced in medical care. It was a soft, longer, thick gown with the usual bum-showing slit down the back, except that it had a sideways wrap around tie so you could make yourself decent. But the best feature is what the thing actually DID.
Pre-op, surgery and recovery areas are usually kept a little chilly to discourage bacteria growth, so you end up with minor hypothermia, and they merely toss an extra blanket on you to stave off the cold. Not with this thing though . . . the Bair Paws had a port in the side where a warming unit hose attached and a temperature control box with a dial was placed beside me. i suppose if you’re the hot-blooded type, you could choose cool air, but not me . . . crank that sucker up! In moments, it filled with warm air that puffed the gown up a little and filled the little channels inside, flooding warm air over my whole body as i lay there waiting for surgery. Awesome! i wanted to take it home with me when i left!
Speaking of comfort, while i lay there the nurse asked me things beyond the normal health battery that crossed over into personal wellness. “Are you employed?” “How would you say your stress levels are?” “On a scale of 0-10, how much pain are you in right now?” And one of the strangest things the nurse asked me was: “Do you feel safe where you live?” Which one could interpret as, “Is your neighborhood kinda sketchy and do you think you can be a bit incapacitated for a week without the worry of having to fend off an attacker or break-in?” Or perhaps an equally unpleasant implication “Is your spouse / partner / parent / roommate abusive or uncooperative?” But maybe this was just a general assessment of “Do you fear having no help or support during your recovery at home or are you safe in the knowledge that you have a loved one or family & friends to help you recuperate?”
The anesthesiologist asked if i’d like a mild sedative but i felt pretty calm and warm and content. Everyone was so pleasant, calm, kind and assuring. The woman who put in my IV was a pro, it didn’t hurt at all.
“Would you like to see your family now before we take you back? It’s almost time,” the nurse said, her eyes motioning to the clock that was 7 minutes from 8am.
“That would be nice,” i said softly and as she walked away i looked beyond her to see that one of the surgery swing doors had a feminine scrolled, handwritten sign taped to it that read “Door To Narnia.” And this made me laugh.
My mother & Joe came back to pat my hand, rub my feet, kiss my forehead and cheeks and assure me before my passage into the back of the wardrobe and on into snow-laden Narnia.
i was wheeled back past a few operating room doors all looking set for procedures, heads wrapped in institution green caps bobbing in and out of the square fields of glass in the doors and finally, there i was, last door on the right. They bumped my hospital bed / gurney against another set below operating lamps and a nice young man with his mask pulled up halfway told me his name, then a nice woman across the way named Tammy said hello, then from my left the surgeon and another nurse came in.
i mentioned i’d like pictures of my gallbladder, which drew a couple strange looks to which i explained, “Hey, i want to see the thing that’s been causing me so much pain. Can i have some of the stones too?”
“We don’t give them out like candy honey,” the nurse to my left quipped, “they usually get sent off to the lab.”
“Well, it’s just that i spent some time making them, so i want to see them too.”
“i hear some people make bracelets and jewelry out of them,” remarked Right Nurse.” i had already thought of this and in fact had joked about it just days before.
Then the male nurse to my right said, “Ok, scoot over to this bed,” while Left Nurse gently instructed, “Move up just a little so your head is on the pillow, your bed is a little lower.”
While i did this, Left Nurse injected something magical into the midsection of my IV and Right Male Nurse put a mask lightly to my nose and mouth with, “Some oxygen?” which seemed mostly a statement but went up a little at the end to form a question.
“Yes, please,” i half-thought and thought nothing else.
There was no counting back from 10 or 100, there was only sleep, then surgery for 45 minutes to an hour, and then i was suddenly awake. None of this drifting back or blurred cinematic visions of white coats flurrying about or a nimbus of faces hovering near me while lights flashed in my eyes checking for response. It was, “Some oxygen?” then, i was wide awake in a bed somewhere in recovery, back in my Bair Paws and feeling amazing. i don’t know what drugs they gave me, but it was more than relief, more than feeling that some offending organ making me sick had been removed. i felt at peace, warm, well-rested, comfortable, not cloudy, no pain, and an oddly light sense of elation. Truly happy.
A nurse picked up the phone at a desk directly across from me. i smiled at her over the tops of my feet. “Yes, she’s very alert,” she reported to someone on the other end.
i was wheeled back to the room in a line of beds where i was first admitted and my mom & Joe came in to see me. it was less than an hour of recovery where i chewed two cups of shaved ice, gulped down 3 apple juices, had two glasses of water and some graham crackers, proved that i could walk across the hall & urinate and i was free to go. A funny little old man cracked corny jokes and wheeled me down to the car where Joe helped me into the passenger seat, we were home before noon, and i rested for a week.
REAL food . . .
My mother & Joe ordered Hawaiian pizza and hot wings that first nite, and sure, i had my juice and water and all that nonsense, but for weeks, i had been craving fried chicken, so i am happy to report i had a slice of pizza with cheese stuffed crust and three little nubby chicken wings just hours after surgery and was SO happy. Nothing like jumpstarting your system by challenging it. Shortly after that i mostly behaved and ate more mild foods: brothy soups, applesauce, cottage cheese, peaches, saltines, tea, gingerale, and managed to destroy a box of graham crackers.
Then my mom would get to cooking and i found myself eating spaghetti and meat sauce, crock-pot slow-cooked pot roast with carrots, potatoes and buttered biscuits, happy, fluffy clouds of 2 scrambled eggs nestled into Franz white bread with a light spread of mayo and cut into little triangles. She made sure i got my protein and ate “real food” as she called it. None of this “organic” shit we usually eat which as everyone knows, is made of ground-up hippies and probably caused my gallbladder to go rogue in the first place. There may be such a thing as eating TOO healthy and not eating some evil stuff once in awhile.
But man, my mother packed this house with 12-packs of three different sodas: Vernors, a Michigan hometown gingerale favorite, Dr. Pepper and Fresca. Then there was a deluge of junk food snacks: three different types of chips, 2 dips, ranch dressing, a box of See’s chocolates, a canister of See’s nuts, a HUGE canister of three flavored popcorns (cheese, butter and caramel), a pound of Twizzler’s red licorice, Raisinettes and Resse’s peanut butter cups that were Christmas Tree shaped. That was just what i took immediate stock of, there was plenty more. i have considered hosting a movie nite or a party just to get RID of some of this!
I’d Like to Introduce You To My Girls, Vicki and Pam . . .
Diet was one concern which seemed to go fine but pain management was a deep worry. i thought for sure that i wouldn’t be able to tolerate the Vicodin, but a few experiments of breaking them in half in the weeks before the surgery proved to be promising and when i came home i simply tapered as the days went and remained a little sore sometimes, but pain free. First two days were every 4-5 hours, days three and four every 6-8, by days 5 & 6 i was taking one at noon and one at midnite, plus a little Motrin for the pain and swelling and by the end of the week and the beginning of next, i was taking ½ a Vicodin at nite to sleep through the nite peacefully.
Though infrequent, my usual fall back sleep aid is Tylenol PM, who i call “Pam,” and just one, because the suggested dosage of two guarantees i won’t be attending anything the next day until after, oh, say 3pm. i also nicknamed my Vicodin, “Vicki.” i only need ½ of her. And the girls now, well, i just keep ’em around for laughs and a good time if i need to just knock myself the fuck out of consciousness for the nite.
Here Kitty, Kitty Or, Taming The Beast . . .
i’ve been introducing food slowly and lightly as a one at a time lineup to my digestion, sort of like tossing bananas and tennis balls and roller skates and live goats into a lion’s den with “here you go – what do you think of THIS?” Experimental interaction. And because what i know of food is occupational, i think of my gallbladder in food & restaurant terms as having been “86ed” or as i said to Joe while pawing through the random generators for the words and distractedly typing on the computer the other day, “my gallbladder’s been deleted.”
To follow that theme – i’m sure it will be awhile before my digestive system reboots & comes back online. And i’m certain that i won’t be able to hork down a bacon cheeseburger and waffle fries without incident anytime soon. i don’t want to piss anything off in there . . . i know very well it’s a first class luge ticket for any food that offends my system currently rewiring itself and trying to figure out why the bile salts storage facility closed down. Sorry, love – it’s the economy. Things are tough all over. Soldier on. Now here’s some Indian Food, some wine, some corn chowder, a fried egg sandwich, some potato chips – oh, no sorry, i take that back. Baked potato chips from now on.
All told, if you find out your gallbladder is angry and you are considering just leaving it in and dealing with it, DON’T! You have to EAT to LIVE, and there was no way i was going to compromise my lifestyle & diet in fear of food and future attacks. i already had the basics and took care of my body, now i just have to bounce all the way back. The incisions are barely anything, one inside my belly-button that you can’t see, one barely the length and width of the edge of my pinkie fingernail, one smaller than the circumference of a pencil top eraser, and the largest one is about a centimeter. That one has character too . . . a little red edge, like its smirking at me which will fade and flatten over time, plus a little kitten whisker edge of a clear, dissolving suture, which i may snip if it doesn’t go away soon.
The cost of this whole adventure via the care of Kaiser Permanente? $14. Two office visits at $5 apiece, $4 for four presecriptions. No cost for the EKG, bloodwork or ultrasound. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Joe. Thank you PSU. Thank you State Of Oregon.
Well, that’s enough for now. i’m sure i have left anyone who made it this far with plenty to digest . . . sorry about that – you can see what occupies my mind these days.
And you’ll just have to forgive me, you see – i’m not all there . . .
It’s not like you haven’t heard from me . . . but i suppose you haven’t heard all the tales and tidbits. i DID just make a cross-country move with my darling husband. So let’s see what i can tell you about what it is to move from Virginia to Oregon with everything you own, a car dragging behind you, plus a landlubbing Bengal Cat to which any confinement in a moving vehicle is a personal affront to be met with vociferous fury . . .
We’ll begin with the end of days: the weekend of Saturday August 23rd was my last day of work, i waited on Joe’s family, we said goodbyes and he sold them his car. Sunday afternoon we were off to a baby shower for my dear friend Megan in Annapolis and a late-night fevered packing session on Sunday which brings us early into Monday . . .
Monday morning we were supposed to pick up our Budget Rental truck. Penske doesn’t do it that far and U-Haul was NOT an option by poor reputation and my friends’ numerous horror stories and breakdown variations on a theme so Budget had our business, begrudgingly we were to find out. Due to some unknown fuckery at the rental shop, we received a phonecall in the morning, informing us that our honkin’ monster truck (24 ft) would be available closer to noon as the current drop-off hadn’t arrived, but that they would call when it was ready. It was verging .. 2pm by the time Joe actually went there in person to experience – more fuckery. Apparently, Larry, Curly, Moe (and possibly Shemp) were not capable of doing anything by hand (filling out forms, figuring out taxes) and the whole Eastern seaboard Budget computer system was apparently mysteriously “broken.” Once it came back online, (and partway through the manual entry) they insisted Joe stay to put it all in the computer. My poor husband, fuming, but controlled did not arrive until 3:30. Luckily we had angels waiting for us.
i don’t know what we would’ve done without Jared and Patrick helping us haul things down and load the truck. i don’t know why we thought we could’ve done it by ourselves; we would’ve had to add another whole day to our trip exhausting ourselves getting everything loaded! Of course, the late truck meant later packing, meant later loading meant later cleaning of the apartment, and we really wanted to be out early evening, get somewhere outside of the DC Beltway morning rush hour, hole up in a little motel and rest, and to then start the trek first thing in the am. Well, it wasn’t until after midnight, when we finally packed the vacuum and cleaning supplies. i gave Odin some PetCalm to ease his nerves (but it didn’t, much) while we drove over an hour (an eternity with howling feline) to Hagerstown, Maryland.
A word about the Motel 6 . . . sketch. Okay, lots of snaky S words. Like, skeevy, scary, bars on the window where the night clerk sits, sketchity spookville. We were only here because they had a pet friendly policy, not to save on any moving expenses as they were covered by Joe’s university job. A quick survey of the area (and the big sign about NO TRUCKS) and it was clear we had to park the moving truck (24 ft + now the extra 10ft or more with my car in a flatbed tow) at the shopping mall lot across the way. We figured it was ok to do since other trucks were parked similarly.
But just to be sure, Joe asked the clerk, “Is it ok to park over there?” motioning to the direction of the trucks.
The clerk offered a nervous, and falsely reassuring answer, “yeah – a security guard patrols there every hour or so. Any room preference?”
“Where we can see the truck,” Joe said plainly.
So, Odin got settled quickly (he can bed down anywhere, he just hates MOVING in a vehicle), chowed down, did some encouraging kitty business in the newly re-located litterbox and perched himself at the highest point in the room, the tv, to survey his new domain. We pulled the scratchy, toilet paper thin bedsheets over us and commenced sleeping into morning one of our cross-country adventure.
The next morning, it was the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s which smelled like greasy, eggy-bacon heaven floating atop pancake clouds; evil and delicious but the type of meal one could not hork down shamelessly every morning without regret or consequence. Our waitress was pleasant, quick and dirty with the coffee cups and water and plodded through the standard “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today.” There wasn’t any fresh fruit, unless you counted all the sugary canned ones for pancake toppings, but there were three types of gravy to include chipped beef and four types of potatoes – all fried.
And boy howdy it hurt my soul; there were some very unhealthy, ungainly, unhappy people milling around the breakfast bar. People shuffled up with oxygen tanks and walkers, sort of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest revisited meets Dawn Of The Dead, and honestly, forgive me for this description, but between all the medical equipment, the staggering display of obesity, and the general slow-moving malaise owing to an early morning it was not an easy square to maneuver. Conversely, the buffet was patrolled and replenished by a pasty, skinny, pock-marked, shifty-eyed, surlier than Satan, quick-handed, would be mass-murderer type, luckily armed only with a few spatulas. i hesitated to ask for anything that might come off sounding like a snooty, pain in the ass dietary concern, should Jethro James Manson, Jr. decide this was his morning to “waste ’em all.”
The bill didn’t amount to much, as we had a per diem for food in our moving expenses, so Joe left the waitress a $10 tip.
“Whoa, what’s that say?” the cash register jockey drawled, incredulously.
Joe is lovely, but his hand-writing is difficult and deeply codified, plus the pen was a little dry, so i assumed the numbers were hard to make out.
“Joe went back over the numbers in pen and told him “Ten dollars.”
“Wow! That’s a great tip.” This was the lottery to this guy.
As a waitress in fine dining where the average low end tip is a straight $20, this statement made me terribly sad, but i could see the grubby, wrinkled, single bills and piles of change emptied from pockets and cup holders, piled on dirty tables under brown coffee mugs as we walked by, looking more like several police searches than gratuities. We must’ve made, “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today”‘s day.
We wound our way through Appalachia through the first of many many miles of corn on our way to Indianapolis.
What should’ve been an 8-hour drive grew into a 12-hour nitemare of three terrible realizations. One – we had one angry, frightened, inconsolable cat (no matter how much herbal tranquilizer administered) who slept for 20 minutes and howled and climbed windows, dashboard and floorboard the other 40. Two – a mysterious idiot light came on depicting a wrench and an oilcan. This to me meant “You’re fucked, Tin Man.” After one of the first tiffs my sweet husband and i ever had about how to handle this second crap-laden fact, we decided the best course was to pull over and call the Budget help line. After being jockeyed through the phone system of choices, we finally pushed enough numbers and spoke to an informed human service agent who wasn’t reading verbatim from the “How-To Talk To The Pissed And Stranded” manual. She spoke to an actual mechanic who assured us it was simply an early warning oil change interval and that we could tell the delivery place on the other end that it came on and needs the service. They even told us how to disable it, but we never did. And finally, Three – with footnotes a) & b) were realizations we made about the truck. a) it laughed at and evaporated fuel – 5 miles to the gallon. b) uphill grades any steeper than say 4%, with the pedal to the metal resulted in the hazard lights being flicked on and a maximum speed of 35mph.
After we finally arrived in Indianapolis to my sister’s place, hair matted, mood dampened, cat howling, with furrowed brow, exhausted and hungry as hostages, we came around to the idea that we had to add a day to our ambitious arrival time. This was decided over a fabulous pork dinner and several ears of corn on the cob plus two bottles of wine. We also decided (and thankfully, my sister and her husband agreed) to leave Odin to stay with them for a week for a later flight retrieval operation that my poor Joe volunteered for. It was clear that completing the rest of the trip with kitty in the cab would make for a longer, more difficult, harrowing and stressful journey – for all of us. Let’s just say that Odin is not easily calmed or sedated, by natural, herbal, homeopathic, psychological, or pharmacological means. On the two-leg (no direct flights from Indy) trip home, he even managed to surf above the double dose of chicken flavored kitty Valium and maintained a constant meow from under the seat, save for the last hour. Joe reports that he made lots of friends on the planes. When Odin did finally arrive, he was all hyped up. Apparently, diazepam, instead of having the nice calming effect, can cause a paradoxical reaction and instead make a human (or bad kitty) wildly alert and excitable. So Odin, above the normal exploratory passes that go along with an animal in new surroundings, paced, mewed, jumped from window to window and trotted from room to room with a lack of coordination and on wobbly legs until pretty much the next morning when he was able to settle in and have a good long sleep. And he’s doing fine now . . .
But back to the adventures of the Janda’s cross-country excursion . . .
Getting fuel was always exciting. Finding diesel in Hellhole, Nebraska often required the help of my fancy new Instinct phone’s GPS Navigation, then it was determining whether we could get the moving truck under, around and out of places without jackknifing, tearing off the trailer or bringing down awnings and taking out gas pumps. EVERY stop, which was more frequent with the awesome fuel consumption, required this exercise in mathematical probability and turning radius.
The cities moved on as I downloaded the local weather. Amazing to me that i could find where we were and what was close by to eat or refuel by the help of Jenny (the name i have dubbed my cell phone’s navigational voice, as in: “Jenny Jenny, where do i turn now? 867-530 ni-eeee-ine.” and yes, Iain . . . a tip o’ the hat to you as well on the name.) Lore City, OH – Grass Lake, MI – Normal, IL – Exira, IA, Waverly, NE – Grand Island, NE. Oh, which by the way, appears to be in the center, like a bullseye dart throw at the US map. However, Grand Island is, as far as i can tell, neither “grand” nor an “island” and is not even remotely near water. Or culture. Or . . .
The waitstaff at the local Perkins gave me very confused looks when, upon having my own oolong tea, i simply requested a pot of hot water, a pitcher of milk and a cup.
“So, you want a glass of milk, like orange juice?” Lloyd asked.
“No, i want a small container, for milk instead of cream, like for coffee,” i tried to explain. He brought me a pitcher of milk normally reserved for syrup and a plastic carafe big enough for 8 cups of coffee but filled with hot water and still, sadly, no vessel to put any of my tea in. 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad i supposed. i was finally able to flag down another waitress to ask for a coffee mug since i was certain tea cups were not to be had. forget about latte mugs too in case i wanted to make a BIG cup of tea . . .
Douglas, WY – Laramie, WY . . .
In Rock Springs, Wyoming we stayed on Elk Street at the “Outlaw Inn” Best Western, ordered my first breakfast in bed and watched my first episode of “It’s Me Or The Dog.” We had traveled all nite through so much flatland (called the Great Plains for a reason, clearly – they go on plainly forever) and when we woke up, we were surprised that we found ourselves in the desert. Rocky, golden stoned climbs and scrubby green & brown foliage dotted the hillsides and ground like so many funny little clown wigs left out in the sun after the carnival left town and never came back. But here’s what surprised me. Sure, we laughed at first, because the winds picked up and there were some honest to goodness TUMBLEWEEDS moving across the road which to me, signals true desolation and nowhereness. Then the sky grew ominous, black and bruised and instead of being hot and blazing, it rained through most of our trip through the desert and on our way as we dipped barely into Utah north of Salt Lake and on into Idaho.
Hefener, UT – Caldwell, ID . . .
And can i just say here, forgive me if you grew up in, lived or currently live in Idaho, because, i know the northern part is beautiful, but damn. Boise proper, from the road and some of the rare farms and outlying suburbs hurt a little to look at. It was hard for me to imagine where you would live, where you would work, how far you had to drive, the manner and means by which you’d survive. Strange domiciles huddled like hungry masses, bumped up against and thrown together in a manner almost suburban, but more like third world dilapidated houses of clap-trap metal sheds and sheets, some barely wooden, functional farmlike lean-tos. Meant for animals. Weathervanes on top seemed an unnecessary after thought. A spritely windchime tinkling and floating off a broken fence made me sad. i hesitate to say soul-crushing, but it did approach that. Once, after a batch of mean road food, we rolled down the windows to umm . . . get some fresh air, and were assaulted by an even worse smell. and here’s where tasting food and wine and trying to disseminate spices, essences, flavors and smells comes in, though i hope to never come across any food or beverage of the sort. i can only describe the smell in Idaho as a dead squirrel/rodent rolled in mocha and put on a pyre of leaves. It had a pungent, smoky, mocha, sweet, rotting meat, dead, acrid, burnt, dry smell that was enough to make us prefer our own flatulence. damn.
Crossing over into Oregon, we stayed in Baker City at the Oregon Trail Motel & Restaurant to prepare for the last leg of our journey into Portland. What a funny, little old, almost stagecoach town. The room was cheap, and included free breakfast the next morning, which was delightful and a good thing, because our first dinner in Oregon, was when we arrived there near closing time to have a most disappointing steak dinner. flavorless, tough, square shaped strip steak (definitely frozen and hauled in), grey-tinged green beans, sad and soggy (definitely canned and not sautéed), and a dusty baked potato (the best part, sadly) which could’ve benefitted from a good wash and less time in foil, so it was easier to strip it out to eat. we probably should’ve had to the fried chicken dinner special that the kooky local ordered when he bellied up to the counter, because he ordered a second plate. but then again, “special” to me in the far restaurant outreaches does not mean “fresh today, on the mind of the chef,” it means, “get this scary shit out of the kitchen before it violates health code.”
Speaking of health code . . . the not so sanitary, no sneeze-guard, precursory salad bar on a small wheeled cart had a threatening sign tacked to it about allowing only one visit with no sharing and one plate per person limit. This plate, by the way, had a 4in diameter, enough to hold a slice of bread with some overhang. and the usual sad green fare of anemic looking iceberg lettuce, limp, shredded carrots, sulfurous purple cabbage, some unidentifiable, unnaturally colored, jiggling gelatinous something, creamy thick dressings, crushed into sawdust croutons, and luckily for me, some watermelon. a rare one-off fruit treat with more crunch, water, and possibly more nutrients than the iceberg lettuce.
i know – i am spoiled. of course, i did not expect to pass through the middle of the heartland, the dairyland, the plains, the land of plenty and to have a diverse and delicate gourmet experience, but being that close to corn, vegetables, grains and cows, i had my standards set high enough that i might actually receive something on a plate that tasted farm raised and had enough color to shine through the blue pallored spectrum of fluorescent lighting that haunts every diner. i realize, i may come off as a food snob, but more i find myself grateful. it occurs to me how fortunate i am to work in an industry and now live in a city and state where culinary excellence, even in the simplest of places, hinges on fresh, whole, organic, local, seasonal, and sustainable food sources. you can taste the difference, people. tomatoes that aren’t pale pink, mealy and flavorless. Strawberries that although smaller than the grocery bought flats, stain the fingers and taste sweet and heavenly. i made a soup last week with these huge gnarly carrots, just pulled from the ground, bundled with the tops on and even after boiling were the most amazing flavorful carrots i’ve ever eaten.
So on the tip of food et al, we’ve been hitting the wine bars, the sake bars, the breweries, the Saturday Farmer’s Market, dinner here and there and lots cooking at home. a few weeks back, my friend Tiffany and i went to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden where we had a traditional tea and ate a red bean mooncake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Joe and i have already met new people and are definitely getting some socializing done. on one such event, i even canned peaches and tomatoes w/ garlic and green peppers for sauces. first months out here out here and were discovering how to compost, rethinking everything i throw away, recycling the hell out of EVERYTHING i touch, and putting food into Ball jars for the winter! holy granola! stop me if i cease wearing deodorant, let my hair dread, get a nose or lip piercing, go on road trips to support jam bands and start practicing hacky sack in my backyard, k?
One of the prettiest parts of the trip – The Columbia Gorge . . .
i’m the impatient type. i’m the girl who wants to feel established and settled the minute i set foot in a new situation. i crave quick learning and acclimation and seem to give myself a bit of hell if i don’t have all my systems, rituals and routines in place. Joe’s sister, Laura reminded us (me, really, who needs the patience and the temperance) that we are setting up a HOME, not just a house or living space, so i should just ease into it without spazzing out too much. but yes, the “house” is mostly setup and the “home” bit is starting to warm in me. we have been sleeping fitfully in a new king-sized bed, (Odin’s all about it too!) the weather has been stellar to mild, with yes, some rain here and there though we’ve apparently entered the rainy season. But Indian Summer came and went in full-swing (it was in the 90’s a few days in the first weeks of arrival and not a drop of rain) and i am certainly enjoying my little garden, deck space, cool mornings, quiet breakfasts and tea in a sunny kitchen, dinners & wine with my Joe and friends. it’s all been quite good. And i know it’s going to be at least a year until all things truly settle, i have a solid base of friends, a job i enjoy and can get all the way around socially and physically without getting lost.
As for our immediate locale – there’s a little coffee house nearby and as we walk down to it, we get a clear view of Mt. Hood, and off to the left, Mt. St. Helens (which i read are two “active” stratovolcanos, kind of “exciting”). there are pear trees along the walk, overflowing and dropping in the grass – ah, the spoils. In our yard, we have roses lining the wooden fence, blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, fennel, ferns, lavender, rosemary, sage, hydrangea and little bursts of wild flowers. In fact, this year i am putting in Spring bulbs and next year, i think i will revive the tomatoes, put in cucumbers and plant squash.
i put out hummingbird feeders and they’ve come and i put out a regular seed feeder and the loudass squawking Scrub and Stellar Jays (plus some sweet Chickadees) have depleted it twice. the squirrels are plentiful – one (or a party of several) gnawed through our Comcast dropline to the house, so we had to have our internets fixed the first few days here. they also chase and skitter across the length of our roof top and you can hear the entire scrabbling pursuit from room to room. This drives Odin wild! Bad little tree rats!
Joe got his haircut at this little local barbershop on the corner by this big brawny tough dude named Justice who had two teensy-weensy grey kittens scurrying about that his friend dumped on him and now he has seemingly been forced to adopt. Their names are Guns & Roses. seriously. And, as recent pictures depict, i also whacked my hair off. it’s a bit curly and untame unless i brush it down some and straighten it, but i like the shortness. Hair clips are my friends.
The fine people i worked with in Virginia bought Joe and i a most original going away gift. A hot air balloon ride over Yamhill wine country which ends in a catered hot, champagne/mimosa brunch! We’re going to try to fit that in while the weather holds . . . but, there is always Spring and Summer next year.
Joe started work on September 15th, and me, after hitting craigslist like a whore, i’ve had a few bites and started a job that’s going to require endurance of some growing pains, but i won’t bore you with those details here. i’m not one to talk shop and air dirty laundry of how i trade time for money; it’s one of those questions i’ve always hated and dislike answering. “So – what do you do?” Of course, i grew a bit bored being a lady of leisure but there are some things i loved about it, like seeing my husband during normal evening hours for dinner in or out and watching or reading things together. Life moves slower here, hours go slower. Life is more leisurely it seems, and it’s not just lack of full-on social or work obligations either, it seems to be an engrained mindset.
On September 23rd, Joe and i celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We had a low key day of salad, pizza and beer, some board games with some rosé champagne, some tv time, some private time, and some blissful sleep. The beer and first bottle of bubbly did us in, so we didn’t get to some really nice champagne gifted to us last year, but there was always lunch the next day . . . and me, i never need a celebratory excuse to crack the bubbly.
Well, two things i am looking forward to out here – Halloween and voting. Both bring a certain level of ghoulish fright and giddy excitement. It’s safe to say that by lawn and houses alone, it appears that Oregon is largely an Obamanation. (heh!) Voter registration was made pretty easy for us: they got me in front of an organic market out here, and Joe at the Saturday Farmer’s market. It was convenient and fast, done by the last four of my SS (since i don’t have an OR license yet) and the voter’s card arrived days later. Apparently, we send all of our ballots in by mail here, which surprised me. i was really hoping to go into a secret squirrel booth for my first voting experience. But hey – no nervousness about machines to manipulate and no hanging chads. i wonder if it’s a scantron?
And if you need to go back a few lines, yes . . . that’s right. MY FIRST. in all my 36 years i have never been registered to vote. Never cared for the process, and living near DC never endeared me to the constant conversation, the dogged preoccupation nor the convocation. (Apologies to my friends for whom it is an occupation.) But i am doing it this year. i am fortunate to survive and do well in as they say, “times like these,” and it occurs to me that being politically active when it counts is by extension, a survival tactic to hold onto all the ideals in life that brought Joe and i out here in the first place.
Oregon is already proving itself as some manner of heaven and a lifestyle i can love.
So come visit us! We have a nice guest room in the basement, right next to the wine cellar.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote the prose poem The Invitation after returning one night from a party where she had found herself frustrated by the level of superficiality that these events often function at: ‘I just sat down and wrote my responses to all the usual questions that people ask – Where do you live? Who do you know? What do you do for a living? And I wrote what I really wanted to know, not just from others, but also from myself in a sense.’
Every so often i revisit this poem to remind myself the qualities i value in a mate and the ways in which love and companionship can be measured and cherished.
This – especially, on Valentine’s Day . . .
::: ::: ::: :::
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
he’s a body walker…
he’s a toe-stalker…
he’s a loud talker…
he’s a head knocker…
::: ::: ::: :::
Those four lines above were a little ode written to our cat Odin late last nite. Sung really. Odin was stomping on us, attacking our feet, howling and head-butting us for attention and Joe and i were trading lines, rhyming a little song to calm the irritation Mr. Kitty was bringing us at bedtime as we had just settled in for sleep. i do love my cat, but man is he a bad little bed monster at nite . . .
Spend enough time in my company and you will learn that i sing not only when i am happy, drunk, or both, but also, when i am irritated. Perhaps it’s been the many years in public service, especially my long stint as a “genius waitress” that has cleaved me into a little Kalliope music box, cranking and tinkling out cruel little songs for my own amusement. These little songs are often peppered with profanity – little gems like the “hate you, hate you, hate you” song “later, dicks” and the “please, catch fire” song are in my constant repertoire. Ask my close friends and co-workers. Or piss me off – you can guarantee i will sing a little song tailored specifically to your special brand of ass-hattery. Just as you walk away.
Well – how do you cheer yourself up?
Or if you don’t want to divulge your private little idiosyncrasies, tell me instead – what is the course of websites you visit on a daily basis that keep you grounded, in touch, in step, in laughter and informed?
For me, my immediate bookmark toolbar looks like this below and it’s a flitting pattern I have in my daily net ritual:
fire up the email: i often find great, funny, interesting news stories and humor bits from my friends. And i’m not talking about the chain letters or the blinky-glitter variety of “hellos” rife with cute animals. (ok, there are indeed bunnies and kittens and penguins and baby wildlife found on my computer, i admit it, but none of the animated sort.)
besides, i’ve just discovered the ultimate, hands-down uber-cutest (and endangered) creature ever. Allow me to digress . . . it’s called the long-eared jerboa (euchoreutes naso) so rare and “distinct enough that authorities consider it to be the only member of both its genus, Euchoreutes, and subfamily, Euchoreutinae.” It’s a tiny nocturnal mammal that is dwarfed by its enormous ears, found in the deserts of Mongolia and China.
It’s practically marsupial – a little kangaroo with bat ears and a striped skunky tail, short forepaws and long back ones to hop around on. He’s being called the “Mickey Mouse of the desert, cute and comic in equal measure,” They’re little tiny things, only about 3-6 inches (8-15 cm) long, but with their super-strength legs they jump – more than 6 feet (1.8 m) in a single bound. And boy, can they dig with those legs . . .
Oh my GOD I want a whole house full of them so I can smooch their little fuzzy heads!
Ahem – but back to the way I websurf . . . (see how easily I get distracted!) So, after I’m done ogling cute animals, I check out my 3 photo sites and then move on down the line . . .
Flickr: I check into my account to see new images from my contacts and read comments on photos I have posted. I often find myself re-visiting this site just to get inspiration.
JPG magazine: I have a few things here and i occasionally peruse their call for photographic themes and enter my photos. I am hoping to get published but I go here mainly for inspiration.
Deviant Art: i used to be a pretty active, paid member and subscriber. It was where I first started posting my photography, my first experience with social networking, really. But the “cool kids” “fav whores” and lack of constructive criticism and commentary led me away. That and some shakeups in the administrators / ownership arenas. I still visit, but I don’t live there anymore.
Yeah, bitch. MySpace. Keeping up with music and family and friends is a full-time endeavor. I love reading what everyone is up to, and all of those people leave me the most colorful, creative comments. That stuff makes my day.
I Can Has Cheezburger?: I won’t lie. I’m absolutely addicted to the LOLcat meme and all the hilarity at ICHC?
PostSecret: Speaking of ritual. I don’t go to church on Sundays, but I go here every Sunday to see new secrets. And so should you – we’re all quite similar inside really, and “a neurosis is a secret that you don’t know you are keeping.” ~ Kenneth Tynan
Weather Underground: yeah, I like to know what it’s going to do out there so I can decide what to wear while it’s doing it. I don’t trust my windows or my thermostat to fully inform me.
National Geographic News: This is where I learn all my random cool news, knowledge and amazing discoveries. Beats the hell out of Fox News in terms of truth and cheeriness.
lifehacker: Geek gadgetry glorified. Nerdly Nightly News. One of the most informative sites on everything from software & share apps, to ways for better life organization, productivity, cleaning, eating, book and music recommendations. It’s all over the map and it’s all mapped out.
emusic: when i’ve got the necessary downtime, I look for the soundtrack of my life to fill it up. I go here and various music blogs scouring for new tunes to download and expand my ever-increasing palate and constant hunger.
Alright, your turn now – what cool nodes on the web do you visit on the regular?
So much life happens in between writing—sure, I toss off a few poems here and there, bread crumbs for the flitting birds to circle and chase and peck upon in my head, but after awhile, i think i get a little backed up. Polluted really. My brain hurts – and I get an actual headache from the need of being empty. But not in a bad way. I am full to the brim of events to reflect upon, or more, i have so much to convey, to catalogue where I’ve been, what i’ve seen, and all the emotional responses in between.
As a child, i often imagined what it would’ve been like to be Anne Frank. To live swiftly, to love, to fear and to hope so deeply in a mere 15 years, and somehow, to have the wherewithal to take the time and write it all down. I imagined what it would be like to have your secret thoughts, sketched out and told to a book/creature/confident called “kitty.” Strangely, i romanticized the idea of having my own thoughts read by others after i died, young or old, discovered in a desk nook, thumbed over and devoured. i think it is more the idea that most of us want to create a legacy than a fantasy about dying young and being immortalized.
Humans want to surpass mundanity; we want to be individually great and loved and remembered for something. Anne did it unwittingly and it was more than just a girl talking about family and school and boys and prejudice – she documented and encapsulated a dark time in history making it a crystallized horror for us to look at and in some ways, to give thanks for our lives now. Is this why we blog? To prattle on about daily events in the hopes that we are found? Or that better, we are PROfound . . .
Sometimes, i still see myself as the girl with the diary in my night table, except that not only is the writing not so private, there’s a digital display for anyone in the world to locate and to read it. Though i have them and use them for other things, my tools are not paper or pen, but this monitor and this computer with a program that throws clean white sheets and perfectly scribed text and no crossing out or rubber-end erasing; it’s cut and paste and movement and manipulation and clickety-clack and SAVE AS until it’s fitfully complete.
And what will they discover of me? i thought about this upon cleaning my keyboard, popping off keys to reveal multiple DNA samples, unlikely chimera tailing together: dust, dried ivy leaves, finger nail clippings, sticky bits of evaporated wine, food crumbs, cat hair, all recombining to lay out a pattern that speaks of a woman with small hands and a dislike for fingernails that make tapping noises, a someone who loves cats and plants and food and libation and cool breezes through windows to kick and stir things up a little, rather than the swatch of a dust rag.
But that’s just part of me – there is also the most important influence and the reason i am able to write at all . . . the people in my life who i spend time with, who inspire me, who i create memories with, else i’d be moaning and meowing on in my own private hell, concocting my prosaic neuroses in painstaking, exhaustive (and to be sure, wildly boring) detail. There’s plenty of that to be had about and so really, it’s a meaningful task to tell a good story about a normal life; that’s what allows us transcendence into heroes.
Wikipedia tells us that a superhero is a fictional character who is noted for feats of courage and nobility, who usually possesses abilities beyond those of normal human beings. The exhibit a strong moral code, including a willingness to risk one’s own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward. They have extraordinary powers and abilities, relevant skills, and/or advanced equipment. More often than not, they have a secret identity.
Well – my list of late, they aren’t fictionalized (well, yet, unless you count Chelsea, who wrote a book and flattered me with a request to design the cover.) i’m going to have break confidence on this one and reveal the identities of good friends and loved ones.
In June, the Monday night of my birthday, it rained. Not to be deterred and though some of the people I invited did not show, Nicole was my sweet saving grace and trooped out with me. We went out drinking like rockstars and dancing like divas, hair thick and skin slick with rain which became sweat, pressed against all those swaying bodies in the basement bar. It could’ve been a disappointing night with the no-shows and the weather, but Nicole was a true friend to me.
Tuesday it drizzled a nice haze to accompany the hangover I nursed at work the following day, but on Wednesday, there was no holding back – the sky opened up and hailed a glorious rainstorm down on us replete with lightning and thunder and flash flooding. And then the transformer blew out at the bottom of the street in a spectacular blaze, then dudded like a lame fireworks finale and darkened the block all except Joel’s house on the corner who was clearly jacked in to the electricity from the next corner over.
The houses on my street are quite old, a good deal of them declared “historic” with building markers by the nearby and omnipresent Historic Annapolis Foundation. Ours in particular falls under the category of “Chesapeake Gray” in the 19th/20th-Century Annapolis Vernacular, 1837-1921. Some of these houses still have root cellars and a good downpour can mean serious problems in the basement – the kind that require a sub pump to work and when there’s no power, there had better be a generator. On this night, there was a truck, suited with a generator rumbling at the bottom of the street for hours while other neighbors exhaustively bailed out bucket style. Luckily, this was not my fate that night leaving me to concentrate on being comfortable in my pajamas and lighting enough candles to give off the illusion of civilized living.
In this monsoon and to my darkened door, Nicole delivered me the birthday carrot cake, carefully wrapped in plastic and shielded from the rain under my porch awning when i rescued it and brought it inside. i poured a glass of Moscato dessert wine and sat down with a good portion centered on a bone white plate, decoratively trimmed with fat pears and flowers rising from the edge of the china; a happy brail inscription of bounty and beauty. no power, no internet, just my cell phone with three little bars of battery power left, so i sent merry, thankful texts as i happily and greedily devoured a wedge of orange, cream-cheese frosted goodness.
“Still living in 1785?” inquired Ryan? “oh yes. it’s Jane Austen up in this motherfucker. candlelit room like a Renaissance ballroom. quite pretty, actually,” i replied. although it was probably more Jane Eyre a la Emily Bronte. more poor girl makes good of it in the dark and damp. Soon after the umpteenth message was texted under my quick thumb, my cell phone battery died. not to be deterred, i went out front to my parked car into the long, narrow street, wading through ankle-high water rushing past me like a line of cool, silver fish swimming to meet the bay at the foot of the hill. All the ever meanwhile, i was in my grey pajama nightie with the intentions of using the auxiliary power in the car to charge my phone and continue my only connection to the outside world beyond this wicked rainstorm.
As i sat with my feet propped up on my dash, i noticed a bright orange and black umbrella lulling a promenade from side to side in the wind and coming toward my house. it ducked into my neighbor’s fence, then dipped to reveal my neighbor Joel’s familiar face. “Joel!” i called. And then had to call again as he swung around trying to figure out where the voice was coming from to discover it was from a car window, rolled down just enough to let the sound out while keeping the rain out too. He laughed at me and my non-outfit and invited me, or more, tempted me with pomegranate cosmopolitans and a warm robe. i mean, how could i refuse a bartender with a Harvard degree in said skill. Well, ok – a “Master of Mixology” degree from the Harvard Bartending School.
The robe he produced was like the coat of many colors. A terrycloth robe in magentas, teal and goldenrod. It boasted a smaller, matching version for his son. So, for the second time that week, i sat, drinking with a head full of wet hair, but this time, i danced with his dog, Schooner, who allowed me to pull him by his front paws and onto his back legs for a little spin through the kitchen. A finer partner than some men i’ve cut a rug with, i can tell you, and sweeter.
Since we got onto the topic of dressing strangely or inappropriately, for my amusement, Joel pulled out the ghosts of Halloweens past. Costumes made mostly of foam: gigantic heads with glasses, a monstrous slice of pizza you could slide your arms into and peek out through holes from, a blood spattered t-shirt to be worn while carrying plastic knives glued through boxes of Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (a “cereal” killer) and finally, the piece de resistance: a naked, disembodied boob wearing a spiked collar and a stiff leash, the kind meant for walking invisible dogs or for, in this case, for two people to walk side by side and when begged the question, “what the hell are you supposed to be?” They could slyly answer, “Oh, we’re just two people walking abreast.”
Joel showed me pictures from a recent bike trip to Lake Tahoe where he races for Lymphoma & Leukemia. He also showed me photos from a recent wedding of his friend Brit. Joel is a wonderful father to his son, Galen, a terrific host, a great cook and a good ear to bend. And he makes a mean drink too . . . i walked home after several ruddy cosmopolitans in my coat of many colors and staved off the raindrops as i went.
And speaking of some mean drinking . . .
August 21st, i went to see one of my favorite female singers Esthero live at the Ram’s Head Onstage in Annapolis. This venue is small and extremely intimate and we, in fact had front row seats. (me and the 3-Ms (Megan, Meg and Melissa). The four of us were parked right up against the stage at her feet. These were feet at which lay the many shots of Jaegermeister she was able to coax from the crowd. The show progressed at a loose and silly pace of storytelling, her father taking pictures as he strolled through the crowd and around the stage, her and her brother drinking as the set grew more improv and a touch vulgar and hilarious.
But she became a Superhero to me when she pulled me up on stage to sing Superheroes with her – a song i had here on my profile for quite some time, and that’s a memory i’ll always cherish whenever i hear it. it’s not every day that a beautiful woman /rockstar you admire points to you in the crowd, compliments you on the way you sing and the way you smell, lays their head on your shoulder and then cops a feel!
i only wish that Shane and i were still friends – he gave me that first CD, Breath From Another, thinking i would like it . . . i did. besides good music and film, he also offered company and advice at a time when my life was undone. i’ll be grateful for that time even if i don’t understand what happened to make us distant. i hope he reads this and he knows that although he can be an extremely occupied but selfless recluse and though i can be a little flighty with a full plate of my own, i’m so happy he found someone to love with as much passion as he owns in this life and offers to the people around him.
Adria, a friend from work quipped recently, “you know, i’m never the bride, i’m not even the bridesmaid, i’m the bride’s waitress.” and i laughed, because i’ve listened to women “ooh” and ahh” and aww” over baby booties and matching dishware for many many years having been the waitress who brings the food, the mimosas and the garbage bag to put all the colorful wrapping paper into as well as the paper plates to affix all the bows to for the “bouquet.”
She’d been asking me about dealbreakers and happiness and love and i’ll have to attest, you’re doing the right thing girl. when you bicker over the proper way to make toast in the morning, when the important conversations become null and void topics for discussion, when there’s love but there’s no real time spent together showing it, if it’s only inertia keeping you there then it’s time to escape the atmosphere. Her life will only open up and welcome the love she needs from here.
Proof positive—you can love people, you can enjoy them for who they are and rail at them for who they aren’t, but that still doesn’t make them a good fit in your emotional world. Weather, seasonal disposition and growth (or death) accounts for the fostering or the floundering of any relationship. Some fall away, some change their shape and meaning, some we cling onto for good.
Which brings me to my beautiful Joseph. There i was, ready for the big move. “Fuck it all, boys and girls. He must not live here so i don’t want to either.” i was going to Los Angeles to be near to my sister, Racheal and her great relationship with Flounder (his legal name for which a story is due), and i would foil off of them and locate love in the big bad scary plastic city (with pockets of reality, so i understand). i even had a sweet benefactor/friend who sent me wine and wonderful books, encouraged my move and bought a photo from me. Drew, you’re a beautiful, thoughtful person and a fine example of the goodness in the world that allows us all to pool from the collective unconscious and come by like-minded people to grok this life with.
And weeks before i was ready to make arrangements for the moving truck, the drive, the car, the clothing, the cat, fate stepped in and said,”oh no, not that!” Somehow by some strange twist of dreams, roommates, my friend from the south, Graham, and Joe’s sister from across the pond, Laura – we came to find each other. It was a volley of long, tasty emails, a dinner date and a long walk that turned into two days before i allowed him to go home.
So many false starts and flat hopes and meaningless gestures from other men and then he sweetly asked, “i know you’re planning on moving and i’m not trying to force my will, but would you consider staying here to see where this goes?” His kind request slowed me and led to deeper discussions and further, fancier endearments. His question also prevented me from making a gross error in thinking that there was no one here for me and possibly, though i adore my sister and the west coast landscape, i have a feeling that a part of me might’ve died out there, that i might not have survived in some ways, financially, emotionally and otherwise. That the crushing loneliness of one cat, a small room, a couch for a bed and a horrific daily commute might only have furthered my suspicions of futility when it comes to finding your soulmate. Out there, somewhere, in one of those tin cans driving alongside you or passing you by on the way to the grocery store and you don’t notice him because you’re digging in your door pocket to retrieve a lost CD for that song you just HAVE to hear that reminds you of the love you want except, you know, he didn’t see you either because he’s got his hand flailing under his seat trying to retrieve the fucking Bluetooth so he doesn’t crash his car or worse, get a ticket for using his cell phone without a handsfree unit.
That’s what i mean—in all the mess, all the chaos, in the busy storm we swirl up to occupy our lives, it’s a miracle we find people remotely like ourselves. People who will take the time to get to know each other, to have the serious and soulful conversations that lead to sunrise and breakfast and the rest of your burning lives. To pay attention to someone closely enough beyond movies and music and favorite colors and pet peeves until it leads to understanding. By measurable degrees, you should come by knowing whether that person is a good match, sense the difference between affection and affliction and employ the necessary balance between appearing over-eager, cooling your chances by self-censorship and being justly picky and mindfully critical. i never settled for friends with benefits, i don’t answer to booty calls and the oil-change for the libido that sport-fucking accomplishes is a pale and temporary fix. it is a troublesome, fantasy-laden emotional vacuum compared to the safety and comfort that a real relationship with lovers able to communicate their desires can offer. Eventually, you relax and just marvel and open yourself and are thankful for it all. And i did. Completely. My reward is being unafraid and constantly amazed by the synchronous workings of this gorgeous love affair.
And wow, does it ever give you perspective . . .
A few weeks ago, we lay down for sleep and he was more than half way there when the phone rang at some inhospitable hour. It was a drunk dial from a boy-long-ago. i let it go to voicemail then checked what could possibly be the matter. I snickered as it played back and thrust the phone at Joe so he could hear the silliness for himself. He muttered, “poor guy, sounds like a Muppet with a mouthful of socks.” Indeed. Occasionally soft, brightly colored, delightful in half-hour episodes, but tragically childish and impossible to understand. i lay back down, he pulled the pillow over his shoulder for my head, smoothing my hair as i settled in and curled an arm and a leg over him, a koala bear clinging to a eucalyptus tree.
Megan and i sat down over a big buttery pretzel and some lemonade last night and i described to her, how different i feel. This, i explored out loud, though she already knows the full story because she’s been there since the bad days crashed down and watched with me as the good ones rose and smiled upon me (thank you woman, you’re in my heart). i expressed how my body is changing and strengthening through the yoga she re-introduced me to, how it is also changing and strengthening (and in some ways, softening) at the influence of joy and love, but more so this yielding is taking place in my mind and in the way i see my life unfolding.
“I consider myself so lucky,” I said.
“It’s not about luck,” she said, “it’s about making good choices.” Thoughtful and practical advice in the face of magical thinking. You are where and what you pull yourself towards.
She’s right. And i choose Joe but not only because he rescued me, but because he chose me. And i choose to be a superhero. To be courageous and noble, to devote my life in the service of good without expectation of reward, to develop extraordinary powers and abilities and to choose love. With abandon.
“And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was
Said I gotta do something
About where we’re going . . .”
~ U2Running To Stand Still
When the first American social rejects set foot upon this continent, they took the time to assimilate: to eat the bounty, to migrate and move up and down the seaboard, to spread out and kick their feet up in the coastal lazy boy, living off the land (and taking it as they saw fit.) Then they had to fight for the right to hang out here, to separate from the MotherLand whose MotherTongue we’ve butchered and bastardized some, giving it much twang and Tabasco and Barbeque Sauce and Ranch Dressing and Salsa until it tastes completely different everywhere you go, but not so much in a bad way.
And after some time, those who didn’t want to sit in squalor, or dine in parlors or live in the chilly northeast or bake in the south and live off the labors of others in both places, decided they would take covered wagons and hit the prairies and brave certain death in search of a plot of land, a wide horizon, and the riches of gold and silver mining. Mostly, they went out dancing on the ever-unraveling hem of destiny naming their tune the “divine task” and kept on dancing so they could reach the Pacific and “subdue the continent.” With two left feet, they subdued it all to hell in the name of In God We Trust, trodding on the toes of Native Cultures as they went, broke the backs of animals and men and women and children and laid down rickety tracks for the rest of the tortured hopefuls.
Years later, the Wild West is still unsettled and so people continue to go, set out to mine their hearts and fortunes. Somehow, impossibly, the world is self-contained; a slow, glitter fallout, a dream-laden rosebud of a snowglobe from permanent vacationland. And even if the plane is overbooked, they are still selling tickets to the greatest show on, well, at least that side of the continent. The souvenirs are innumerable. You should at least get a fridge magnet, a bottle opener and a shot glass to put it in.
With this rich, mottled history in mind i do not have illusions of California. i do not plan my escape from the East Coast with preposterous dreams of fame, or mere brushing with it or flossing, or even fucking it. But i do hope to be near my sister, to be nearer to some idea of a creative, mosaic life, full of similar people with radiant mindsets.
Having grown up in the largely less-than-employed and often partially-educated Midwest, i can say the people may not all be bright and open-minded, but they are sometimes simple in the best ways and friendlier than most and often polite enough to hide their deep prejudices if they so choose to harbor them. Now having lived on the east coast and finding myself a bit put off by the aloofness and general chill and total peacocking of people here, i still note how long it took me to connect with the few friends i have. Sure i’ve “networked.” Of course, i am recognizable in this small town and that brings me to the part where i realize, in some ways, this town is TOO small for me. There are still clothes in my closet i can’t WEAR about and that is a delicate statement about the stodgy, conservative front i seem to sense in the streets.
Perhaps it’s the sailboat masts crowding the skyline and the deck shoes and khakis padding the sidewalks and docksides. Or the ultra-pasteurized, mega-homogenized whitebread conclave pushing strollers with better tires than my car and better fabric than my couch. Maybe it’s the local government under the current administration. i don’t know what it is specifically, and i expect to see similar, maybe even more grotesque people elsewhere, and perhaps it is only a local phenomenon, but i am just not sure i want to live or love in such a climate. i have no children, no husband, no boyfriend, not even a steady lay (if you will) . . . and no mortgage to tie me here. Don’t even get me started on the price of real estate and my complete lack of desire to be shackled to a house in this area or any. And sure, i have a job – but i can get that anywhere.
So what am i saying? Well i suppose my formal announcement is that i plan to put operation “California Dreamin'” in full effect. It may be time to initiate the “Move-Andrea-to-CA-Fund.” Like Make-A-Wish foundation, except that what i wish is that the men in this town weren’t Flakesville or Frigidaire lovers without a clue and that if love brought me here in the first place, it should’ve damn well been able to keep me here, but it hasn’t proven able to do so; i am so tired of half-notions and false starts. i also wish that i had about $3-5,000 and i would totally evaporate from this alien landscape already. i want to look left at the ocean and right at the mountains and down into the green valley and up into a blue sky. And so to be practical, i will work like a Hebrew slave over the summer and build a meager nest egg that will give me moving money, first/last month/security deposit / rent money, and a little cushion for the bills during the employment start up phase until the money is steady. i hope to garner a few extra photo jobs or sell some prints or accept donations and make use of my PayPal account ANYTHING to help get me gone. Sadly, the disenchantment grows as i ready (steady, go!) myself to check the hell out of Mary-Go-Fuck-Yourself-Land.
So hey – buy a print! Or if you like something i don’t have available as a print, magnet, or postcard, eitherHERE on deviantART or any of my photos on HERE on Flickr, ask me be message or email, and i will have it put up here or have it printed personally and send it to you myself. You get a photo, i get money to plan my escape. And if you don’t want anything, i’ll just flat out, shamelessly beg! Grandma doesn’t need an operation, kitty isn’t ailing, i’ve no need to create an elaborate scam, but if i’ve ever encouraged, inspired, helped, or brought you anything useful or meaningful on this big-assed site through my meager photos or words – just send me a donation of a dollar or two – i won’t even hold a bunny hostage or sell you pixels. i just want to get to somewhere that i’ll have more opportunity to create and succeed at doing something i truly love.
So let me tell you about all the weird & wonderful happenings that came to pass while i visited my sister in Los Angeles (Echo Park, specifically during mid-February) and why i’d like to move and get a fresh start on life . . .
Ever since the U2 album, The Joshua Tree hit, it sparked a curiosity in me. In religious legends, the Joshua tree is said to be the tree that pointed Joshua, the successor of Moses, the way to Jericho, with its splayed and entwining branches. The name Joshua tree was given by a band of Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of that Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky. It is also said to be the “Jesus Tree” or “praying plant” with its resemblance to skyward outstretched hands.
As a child, my father was stationed in San Diego and so i saw little of the more famous natural resources other than those in my back yard. When we lived in southern California, my sister and i would play all day, run around with stray dogs in the neighborhood, ride horses bareback, avoid snake bites and catch lizard tails, slide down canyon hills on cardboard boxes, give made-up names to the plants we didn’t know, then sneak into farms and yards and pluck oranges and lemons and pomegranates off the trees and eat them for lunch. We took the occasional camping trip up into the mountains and saw some majestic Redwood Trees (Sequoia) and always, always hit the local beaches. My sister and i brought back so much sand, my father insisted we line the back seat and floorboards with towels to catch it all. On the way home, we curled and slept, folded in half, Gemini twins pinched in the middle with our feet touching, like broken hourglasses, the sand running out of our bathing suits and hair and the crevices of our golden skin.
Other than the beauty of Lake Tahoe, the most memorable trip was going whale watching. The deeper into the ocean we went, the bigger the creatures became. Mosquitoes, butterflies, crabs scuttling along the rocks, fish jumping, sea otters dog-rolling and cracking open shells on their bellies, sea lions ringing the buoy bells, dolphins following the boat and then we stood still, waiting for whale song and water movement and breeching. i felt the boat roll over a long, tall, soft wave and i looked down onto the surface and the eye of a humpback whale surfaced on the other side, peered up at me, big as a balled fist, a ruddy, glistening blue-black egg regarding me, making me wonder at the frighteningly HUGE body that must belong to an eye so impossibly large. It was beautiful, fearful, knowing, old, strange, beckoning and familiar in a way that reminded me how everything came out of the water, the cruel way we fall out of our mothers in a cascade of it, that we consist of it and are soft because of it, that we desire to see much of it laid out in a vast unending horizon, tumbling towards us, pooling at our feet, rising at our waistlines as we wade in, asking us, seducing us to come back to it: warm, wet, encompassing. The east coast has its ocean and its waterways, to be sure, but i am partial to the Pacific, and the memories still whisper to me and ask me to come back. i hear the ocean when i cup my hand and put it to the pillow every nite now . . .
When i planned to see California with adult eyes this time, i hoped to take it in as a mini-spiritual journey, to enjoy the sparseness of the desert instead, and so i told my sister i wanted to see the Joshua Trees, The Salton Sea and to drink wine in some part of wine country, which turned out to be, Santa Barbara, with the ocean to one side and the mountain ranges to the other . . . breathtaking!
If you’d like to see ALL MY PHOTOS from California, you can see them as a set called California Dreamin’ HERE on Flickr. Meanwhile i’ll just pepper them in as i go along.
From My sister’s room, you can see the Hollywood hills . . .
The drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park was spectacular! i shot some photos of the wind farms from the car as we went along . . .
And the trees themselves: all these open arms (prickly, yes) but inviting, and rock piles just begging to be climbed upon . . .
and me with my unintentional crown . . .
At one point, after a few pulls off a flask of tequila, we embarked on a Space Odyssey. This had us dressing in quasi-futuristic clothing and taking photos . . . (SEE the WHOLE SET HERE)
we also stopped off at the Cholla Gardens on the way out and met a few funny shapes and ornery cactus . . .
Then we high-tailed it down, racing against the light to get to the Salton Sea by sunset for the perfect photo opportunities. With the Matrix soundtrack driving our swift passage south like a futuristic techno mantra we arrived just in time to watch the sky dissolve into lemon yellows, powder blues and cotton candy pinks. And the pile of pelicans made it all the more interesting . . .
The following day my sister Racheal, her boyfriend Adam and i went to Santa Barbara (landing finally in Los Olivios) for wine tasting. We started off at The Santa Barbara Winery and took a scenic drive up to Los Olivos, this strange meld of stagecoach and upscale mountain town. You could just as likely imagine a posse riding in on horseback shooting up saloon doors as you could a pack of Luis Vuitton clad women walking a sweater-wearing poodle and clasping a wine glass with well-manicured hands.
One of my last strange adventures was taking lunch at Yang Chow in Los Angeles’ Chinatown with my sister on our last official day just before my trip to the airport.
i bought a black and red floral satin shirt with frog buttons and front snaps plus mary jane’s to match. There were pharmacies with boxes and jars of herbs lining the walls; groceries with bizarre vegetables, displays not in English but in character, even Chinese neon symbols, which were quite beautiful. For all i know they really said mundane things “dog food” or “we accept VISA” or “get out honkey round-eye” but those red, bended, glowing Chinese symbols entranced me from behind the glass. We had a wonderful lunch and fun doing a little shopping, but two strange things happened to tip off some odd omens . . . first, when i opened my fortune cookie, it was utterly blank. There was a slick, white strip of paper with no words on either side. i couldn’t decide if this was good or bad luck and so i asked for another from a passing waiter. The second cookie was a little more cheering as it foretold “The Current Year Will Bring You Much Happiness.”
The other strange occurrence was in one of the shops. We walked through cramped isles, crowded with tables packed end to end with boxes containing dusty tortoise shell hair clips, all manner of beaded jewelry, and enough jade to festoon a hundred palaces. Suddenly, there was a light buzzing in the air as something small and fast whirred past my ear and above, trailing circles in the ceiling. It was a hummingbird! It landed for a few moments, heaving lightly in the crook of chains that held a long ballast of fluorescent lights. i immediately thought of the hummingbird i saw in August, and saw it as yet another portent a sign that my life is on the right track. Well in so much as California is a good idea of increasing magnitude. Then we came out into the fading dusk and found our car to be, not there. Not where we left it. Nowhere near where we remembered parking it. In fact, it had been towed. Dude, where’s my car. Oy.
We called the number on the sign posted in the event that her car was actually impounded. It had been disconnected. We went across the street to a hideous Thai restaurant with a fountain in the middle of the dining room flanked by drooping near death plants and dark, sullied water. We asked for the number and called the local police station the tag hadn’t been reported, it hadn’t been stolen or taken in by them but they gave us the number to parking enforcement who then gave us the number for the tow yard that had her car. At first they couldn’t find it because it was so recently removed that it hadn’t arrived yet.
When they finally DID locate it by the tag, we set about getting a cab. The restaurant manager called us one and when he arrived, there was no indication, no illumination, not even a meter inside of his beat-up minivan. For a moment i thought i might have to kick someone’s ass if this random dude was carting us off to “get-in-the-hole-and-put-the-fucking-lotion-in-the-basket-land.” But it turned out he had a flat rate of $5 locally and if the trip ended up being a little more convoluted (which it certainly was, as this tow yard was in the middle of Unholy Hell on the corner of “God DAMN” and “Kill Whitey”). So we incurred a “pain in the ass surcharge” of $5 bringing the trip to a $10 fare. i tried tipping him, but he refused.
All the ever meanwhile, let’s not forget that i needed to make it to the fucking airport for my flight in the next 2 hours! As we waited in line we heard the attendants ask for driver’s license and registration. Racheal was in the process of doing her taxes and her registration was at home NOT in her car where it should be in such cases, so they would NOT release the car to her. She called a host of friends, one of whom (thank you Shazilla!) was finally able to swing by and pick Racheal up, drive her home, get the registration and come back.
“Yeah it’s off of Sunset,” Racheal snarled, then i snickered and added, “just tell her to look for razorwire and the homeless people camped out front.”
When Racheal and i got back to her apartment, we put down a beer apiece to unwind from the adventure and all too quickly, it was time to throw my bag together and get to the airport. We made good time and of course my flight was delayed 40 minutes. Awesome.
As i drifted off to sleep on my first red-eye flight, i thought of that blank fortune cookie. Was it bad luck? Should we have left earlier and been able to avoid the car towing debacle? Was it good luck? Did it mean that my future was SO wide open that i could write it myself, like a fill in the blank answer? Well certainly, my life hasn’t been void, but there are some blanks i’d like to fill.
Photographer Gordon Parks wrote in his autobiography. “I was just born with a need to explore every tool shop of my mind, and with long searching and hard work. I became devoted to my restlessness.” i have indeed been restless, and i am hoping to sharpen formerly used tools. And right now, i need a bigger workshop to do it all in, and that place is California. Everything in me is tripped on and alive with the mere prospect of it all. A bit terrified too as it will be a monstrous move, but hey if the Beverly Hillbillies did it and survived the culture shock, i can too.
ANDREA that is . . .
no swimming pools
no goddamn movie stars.