Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 3: Excuse me, Ma’am?

 

The basket and pottery rooms at the Arts and Culture Museum were dimly lit. It was a welcome relief from Santa Fe’s open landscape and hot sun. It’s the kind of place that could bring you to a whisper just by walking in. Light can do that, or lack of it.  At least, that’s what I thought. Not so much for the group of high school students in hoodies who were horsing around. They were probably enjoying each other’s flirty company more than beholding 100 year old ceramics on a forced field trip.

Who could blame them? Observing old baskets in a dark room when you’re 16 sounds like a snoozer. Still, at times I saw them staring through the glass cases, writing things in their notebooks.

Maybe they were amazed, like I was, at baskets dating back to 1856 but looked as if they were recently made. The structures remained remarkably sturdy. They somehow looked more well-used than old. The layers of weaving were smooth. With no faults perceptible to my scanning eye, it was hard believe they weren’t spun by a machine.

The white index cards beside these works of art contained, dates, tribes, location. What struck me most was seeing this.

Artist: unknown

or

Artist: Little Bobby’s Wife

or

Artist: Mary

Even if we don’t always know the artist’s name, scholars can “read a basket” by design, form, utility. It speaks without the artist.  It made me consider the word identity and source, a humble place, where things were built to last.

I thought about the 89 cent blue Lucite bowl that I have in my kitchen at home. Durable but totally disposable, a Wal-Mart special. Somehow I don’t think my chip bowl will ever end up in a dimly lit room. Most likely, a landfill when I tire of its color. God bless the crafts people who wake up every morning and do their thing or else the museums of our future might look like a cheap aisle of Target relics. Made me appreciate the baskets I brought back from Eritrea when I was in the Peace Corps even more.

Opened my cabinet and realized they were on the same shelf.

I walked by every case, steadying my hand for a no-flash photo. The curves and shadows of these clay and woven vessel shapes in that light was… well, sensual. earthy. full.  If the sound of that doesn’t make you strut a little taller in a pair of cowboy boots, than I don’t know what will.

I was almost stepping out of the museum when I stopped one last time in a room that highlighted contemporary Native American arts: Abstract painting. What a contrast! I was reading the wall text about an elder who felt stifled by traditional crafts. He encouraged artists to break out of traditional molds. I thought wow, that’s so brave and fascinating- coming up against all that tradition. Grappling with honoring it and changing the face of what is expected of a Native American artist.

Right next to the text was an incredibly intricate portrait of him woven from tiny beads. It looked as distinct as a photograph. There must have been over a dozen of colors to shade and create this portrait.  I raised my camera and took a picture. It was blurry, so I took another and that’s when I heard the voice.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

I looked up, delighted to see an exceptionally handsome young docent coming toward me.

“No photographs please. (beat)  You know, Native American.” He flashed me a smile as he stressed the last two words.

I turned exactly the color of my shirt: pink.

I gasped. I slapped my hand against my chest.

“OH MY GOD! I am so sorry.” I exclaimed

“No problem.” His demeanor was easy going, friendly.

“I usually pay attention to those kinds of things.” I said as I walked back with him toward his desk. “But I didn’t see any signs– oh would you look at that, here’s an 8 ½ by 11 yellow sign right here on your desk.”

He laughed. I laughed. I was now pinker than my shirt and an instant armpit sweat machine.

“I am really so sorry.”  What a faux pas. It wasn’t so much “no photos” as it was, “you know, Native American.” But of course.

Two things immediately flashed through my mind. 1) I tried to recall the first time I learned that Native Americans believed photos stole their souls. I swear I learned that when I was five years old watching a Grizzly Adams episode. Maybe Nakoma didn’t want his picture taken? I can’t remember for sure. I could be wrong that it was that show, but somewhere in my TV childhood I learned that there is something spiritual to consider.  Something that should be appreciated not captured. It would make sense that a photo has the power to diminish a moment as much as it can capture one.

I did see a Native American craft store in downtown Santa Fe that had a polite sign in the window. It asked tourists not to take photos of the crafts. It was phrased in such a way as if the spirits of the objects were asking for some privacy. I think culturally this is an old custom that has changed with the times. But still, walk away with photos I wasn’t supposed to take from a Native American museum? Bad. Bad. Bad.

Because this was the second thing that had flashed into my mind.

The dreaded Tiki from The Brady Brunch

Remember Bobby and Peter found a native Tiki at a construction site and started having bad luck? Yep. First a heavy wall hanging fell and nearly missed Bobby’s head in bed. Then Greg wore it and had a near fatal wipe out on his surf board. Finally Peter ended up with a giant spider on his chest. The bad luck could only be undone by bringing the idol back to an ancient burial ground which they did in their awesome bell bottom 70s pants.

I walked outside. With bright sunshine overhead, I sat on the wall of the garden and deleted 15 photographs from that museum. Bye-bye vessels and baskets.  I guess you are only ours to see in person.

The docent didn’t ask me to do that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could have just kept them, he seemed so friendly. No doubt, I was not the first tourist to get some photos given their lo-fi signs.

Television wilderness and Polynesian moral-dramas aside, I felt obligated to get these photos off my camera. It just didn’t seem right to keep them. My brother John and I often joke about questionable bad luck vibes around an object, referring to it as, “Ooo Tiki.”

I didn’t want to walk around with that feeling. There are somethings in life that are not ours to hold on to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 2

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Log cabins? Clapboard houses? Architecturally all the buildings are in adobe-style. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I thought if I left the historic downtown district the city would morph like most old cities do-the middle stays ancient looking while the outer reaches look like a commercial from Home Depot.   But even new housing developments in the suburbs have the adobe-look.  It’s both interesting and slightly disorienting to see the same earthy exterior everywhere.  You can visually feel lost. But at every turn, you know you are in Santa Fe. It’s beautiful in an unusual way.

For how impenetrable the outside of an adobe looks, I can’t help but feel there is something warm going on inside: people talking, cooking and life’s intimacies happening close to the hearth. I wanted to find out what’s in there. It gave me the sense that Santa Fe has a particular tough sun baked exterior and a very rich private interior. I fall in love with people just like this.  But as easily as I’m drawn to unravel a mystery of the quiet-type, I’m equally confounded by it.   I’m guessing it takes time to infiltrate Santa Fe at its heart, to get beyond the façade of tourism and really know its people but with only 4 days, I wasn’t going to find out for sure.

It’s not the kind of place with hearty handshakes and ‘ C’mon inside!’ (Except for my friends who opened their home to me. Thank you!!) It’s more like a place where the land takes you in first, people second.  There is no denying that the landscape is a character to know.  Maybe the majesty of the Sangre de Christo Mountains (Spanish for Blood of Christ) and the other ranges collectively bind the community together. I can see why people are drawn to this place.

fancy hotel and spa

love the shadows cast on this home

Downtown Santa Fe

 

 

Some Kick-ass skull boots

 

You must cruise The Plaza, at least once, for the magnificent turquoise jewelry, cowboy boots and sparkly belts. I was not prepared for the outrageous price tags that went along with them. The stuff in glass cases, as you can imagine, was thousands and thousands of dollars. It’s good that browsing is still free. I did plenty of that.  I casually picked up earrings and had to blink several times to make sure my contacts weren’t fuzzing up the wrong decimal place. The prices are whistle-worthy.

There were other shops that had more affordable jewelry, but unique certainly carries its own price tag. The high-end designs and craftsmanship were truly awesome, something to behold. I came across a turquoise pendant the size of a Whoopie Pie!

honkin’ whoopie pie size

The Plaza. The oldest church. The oldest house. The miracle staircase.  All of this was really great to see, but you know what I wanted to see more than gazillion dollar necklaces? I wanted to find an honest to goodness antique junk shop. The kind my romantic eye imagined exists in a place like Santa Fe.  You know the kind, a ramshackle house filled with bric-a-brac and the possibility of needing a tetanus shot if you reached into a pile haphazardly. A treasure is sure to be in the midst.

It takes an insider’s insider to know about a good junk shop and most likely a trip to a place not on my map. In Raton, I asked the kindly desk clerk and she pointed to an antique shop next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I drove over to it but could see it was closed. I even tried to stop there on my way back to Denver. Still closed. Maybe if I knocked someone would have emerged?  That’s okay, a little disappointment keeps the heart yearning. I know hidden treasures are out there.

What was not to be found at a junk shop, was made up easily with the “Local favorite”  Green Hatch Chili infused Margarita I had on the rooftop of the Coyote Cantina. Spicy! Easy! Gave me the feeling I was wearing those kick-ass skull boots but wasn’t. Likely the kind of drink that gets people in all kinds of predicaments. The food was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. Best tacos I’ve ever eaten. You could make food your sole itinerary in Santa Fe and look forward to all your excitement happening on a plate.

There’s so much to write about and hard to condense….I have at least one if not two more installments to write about this trip and it includes my faux pas at a museum. Lord help me. That needs its own post. Stay tuned. Until then, how do you think this necklace would look on me?

self-portrait with turquoise necklace

 

Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 1

Last Wednesday I hit the road for New Mexico.  I grabbed my little red cooler, two handfuls of cds and forgot to apply sunscreen.  Nothing reminds you of changing skin tones quite like the fluorescent lights of a gas station restroom.  Aside from the toasty face and left arm, the 6 ½ hour ride down Rte. 25 South went roof tapping good.

Once I passed through the morning commuter traffic, I encountered fewer and fewer cars, until it seemed I broke free of my contained life and opened up to the vast yellowy plains with paper mountain cut-outs in the distance. It was serene. People complain that some of this ride can get boring, but I couldn’t have been more dazzled by the changing clouds and the open space.

 

The posted speed limit is 75mph. I thought about how Sammy Hagar used to sing, I can’t drive 55, olden times, I guess.

I passed by the occasional RV towing a car in the back or a few long haul truckers. For the most part, the road was mine. Two lanes in the open land.

On a road this spare, it’s easy to notice a roadside memorial for those who made an untimely departure in an accident. I see these from time to time in Denver, but out on this almost 400 mile road trip I came to see so many, I started counting.  I think I got up to 17 just in the south bound lane.  Simple white crosses stood knee high affixed with silk flowers and hand lettering; another had butterflies and yet another had a girl’s name spelled out in a curve of metal letters. Each seemed to capture a little bit of personality, like the one yellow safety vest flapping on a cross- a vest just like I saw the road workers wearing.

Most were singular crosses, but then I saw sites that had 3 crosses in one place. Two big. One little. It’s hard not to wince.  I thought about the people who traveled back to these places to honor their loved ones, marking where their spirit left. These memorials gave off both warning and remembrance.

I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album on the way down and the lyrics from the song Atlantic City particularly moved me as I drove by these roadside memorials.

“Well now, evrything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe evrything that dies someday comes back”

 

 

Sun in my face, arm out the window, the soulful harmonica hammered through me.  I nodded to something unknown. I turned up the volume.

It bears mentioning that one of my first 5 minutes stops in NM was Raton. There are two things worth mentioning. They have old style motels here with old style prices. Maybe people sing I can’t drive 55 here? Look at the pic below. $29.90! When’s the last time you saw that price?  My cable bill is more than that.

 

Secondly and most importantly, at the Visitor’s Center you can pick up a FREE plastic Deputy Sheriff’s badge. Yup. Believe me; no child was more excited to pick one out than me.  I even said so to the two nice ladies at the desk when I signed their guestbook.  I only wish I could have heard their conversation afterward. What can I say? My new badge was my road talisman. My silver star.  I kept it near my gear shift.

I was so excited to be on the road. To be on vacation. In the several hours I spent on the same highway, I came to recognize some of the same trucks and RVs by color, license plate. I felt like a kid again. As I passed another 18-wheeler, I had the split second urge to slow down, catch eyes with the trucker in the window, push my clenched fist up and down, like when I was a kid and wanted them to sound their horn. If I had a CB radio, I would have gleefully said, “10-4 little buddy. Smokies up ahead.” In this kind of desolation, you watch out for each other.  But I thought better of making eyes at a trucker and yanking a fist up and down on a deserted road. Maybe he doesn’t share my idealism.

To be continued…

How to Take a Vacation

 

Of Thee I Sing, Winter Park!

 

Howdy!

I know.  No post last week. What can I say other than my brain was like a faucet with only the slightest drop of water hanging on for dear life at the rim. I figured it was time to fill my creative cup.

Luckily, my two week vacation began on Monday.  I started my re-charge plan by being a zombie on my sofa. I took a walk. I didn’t eat anyone’s brains, but fed myself well and returned back to the sofa for a marathon of reading and snoozing. It’s not exactly a running start for an energy boost but my control panel has been lit up with activity all summer to the point of overload. Sleeping and reading on Monday was like grabbing a horseshoe shaped breaker and shutting down the main power.  It felt zappy, like when your nervous system jolts you awake just as you fall off a cliff in your not-yet-dream.

Disconnecting usually feels delightful when you’re going a million miles an hour, but I actually felt out of sorts with myself. I started feeling what I call Fussy Baby Syndrome. I wanna lie down. No, I wanna get up. I wanna be alone. Maybe I should call a friend to go out?

The last dribs of unsettled anxiety seemed to be trying to find a voice like a nerve ending that’s firing at random.  It finally went away and I woke up on Tuesday a brand new human being.

It takes time to transition into vacation. I’m convinced one day of brainwashing must take place before you can enjoy the rest.

 

Ahhhhh.  Achieved.

Where the writing and reading magic happened

I drove up to the mountains (Winter Park) to stay at a friend’s place alone.  I brought 4 books, plowed through 2 already, had my 20 minute altitude crushing headache when I didn’t drink enough water and took up residence on the deck.  Who knew being away from my own place (which I love) could feel so good.  Change of scenery really does something. Mental note: must do this sooner next time I feel like a beast.

Is it a wonder that I don’t currently own hiking boots?

 

I went into the village of Winter Park. I had skied there all winter and wanted to see what it was like with grass. Somehow it was less intimidating.  What I did find intimidating were all the crazy mountain bikers. Not your average 5-K t-shirt wearing Gatorade dudes…these guys were in full Mad Max Turtle gear. They had breast plates and back shields and shoulder shelving that was NFL worthy. They had full helmets with chin guards and iridescent ski goggles that made them look like supernatural heroes on bikes. The palpable testosterone gave me a thrill, you big crazy fellas.

 

Dudes in bike armor. I swear I’m not taking a picture of you. Don’t run me over.

 

Getting the bikes loaded on the ski lift

 

Bye-bye Mad Max Biker dudes. I’m going to miss those chest plates.

 

I wanted to take a photo of these guys up-close, but was too shy to ask. I pretended I was taking a photo of the mountain instead. I’m sure they thought I was weird.  I spent most of the afternoon reading and people watching. I watched a couple playing with a life size black and white chess set in the town square. I always imagined having one of those as a kid. At one time, my brother John and his friend Tom and I were dreaming up a human chess board, but with only 3 people, we came up short for pieces.  As I was day-dreaming about this, I watched a rogue two year old, come in from the right and run full-force kamikaze into the chess pieces, toppling over with three pieces about the same size as him. The couple playing froze. The harried Mom a few steps behind said, “Sorry!” Just as she picked up the kid (not the pieces) he stretched his powerful little body and solidly kicked another piece down. I laughed my ass off.

A disconcerting sign upon entering the ladies room

I thought I’d make a list of how to take a vacation. Next time, when I am in desperate need of a vacation, I can remember how to do it.

Top 10 Ways to Take a Vacation:

1.) Take a vacation.

2.) Experience Fussy Baby Syndrome. Give baby anything she wants.

3.) Nap to the point of boredom

4.) Read books you’ve been meaning to read

          a) Seminar by Theresa Rebeck (play)

          b) The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert (Biography)

          c) Falling Through Space by Ellen Gilchrist (Memoir/Journals)

          d) Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston (Memoir)

5.) Make new list of books to read when finished.

          a) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy  (* I vow to read a classic that I pretend to know about… Maybe it will be riveting? and wonderful?)

          b) My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond (Short Stories)

          c) The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (Fiction)

          d) I have so many to fill this slot, I can’t commit.

6.) Take a walk. Preferably at 9,000 feet above sea level. The two chocolate cookies will feel earned.

7.) Try to get paid while on vacation.

         – It’s like having a banker rub your head until you fall asleep.

8.) Drink water. It’s good to stay headache free.

9.) People watch on park bench.  Make note of other people people-watching. Come up with no particular realization other than it’s nice to pass time among other people who are relaxing.

10.) Look up often into the sky.

All is right in the world.

It’s been a mighty good week reading and writing. I also watched two episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. Did I just say that publicly? I must really be on vacation. Turn up the entertainment, pass me a Stella Artois.

If all goes well, I’ll be reporting to you next week from Santa Fe. I can give you a progress report on Anna Karenina. I think I can guess how this classic Russian novel is going to end. But my road trip to New Mexico? A Mystery.

How Will It End?

The Olympics are on which means I am periodically weeping on my couch. You’d think I was watching The Notebook I get so blubberly.  It’s not that I have a favorite person I’m rooting for, or that world records are being made or that this taps into some kind of competitive animal inside me (only Trivia does that),  it’s the athlete’s sheer  determination and dedication that rips me up.

Olympic Cry-fest!

In the final seconds of swimming, as I crane my neck toward the TV wondering whose fingertips will touch the wall first, my tear canal locks get so full, there is nothing left to do but open the gates for a flood.  I can’t help it.  All those arms are chopping through the water at full force.  The sportscaster’s passionate play by play makes my heart race and every swimmer in their lane seems like they fighting for their lives.  They are giving it their all and that inspires the hell out of me.

Keep going I say to myself. Stay focused. You can accomplish the things you dream about if you stick to your goals. I’m not talking to the TV, I’m talking to myself about writing my book.  There are so many great lessons that play out when you watch the Olympics. For example, I didn’t hear any athlete say, “Oh shit, Phelps is here? I might as well not swim. He’s better than me. He’s favored to win the gold.”  I didn’t see any athletes slow down or give up even if they saw the person next to them advance.  Even when the crowds roared in the ears of the swimmers who were still a quarter pool length away, they still powered their way through on their own clock

What a great thing to remember when I catch myself thinking, how will I finish my book knowing Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) and Liar’s Club and Lit (Mary Karr) are already the Gold Medal winners?

The gold medal is right on the cover!

Watching the Olympics reminds me yes, I should strive for the medal but there is also pride in doing my personal best no matter who I’m up against.

I was recently notified that I did not win a Writing Fellowship that I applied for, but get this, I was Runner Up!  Was I disappointed I didn’t win? Hell yes! Am I excited I got Runner Up? Hell yes! I worked my butt off on my application for two weeks and gave it all that I had. I had two friends proof it. I wrote out every essay question like it was going to be engraved permanently somewhere and it was, in my own head and heart.  There were moments while I wrote out the application when I thought, okay I can loosen up a little here; good enough can be good enough.  Every time I caught myself saying that, I asked myself am I capable of more? If the answer was yes, I told my seductive friend resistance to take a hike.

I don’t think any of the guys or ladies in the pool are thinking, should I just put in a so-so effort today? Should I not even dive in knowing that Phelps or Franklin wants the same thing I want? No, all the swimmers start strong and end strong. If that doesn’t make your eyes well up, then I don’t know what.

Will you let it intimidate or inspire?

 

In the end, I felt proud of what I submitted. My personal best. Even though I didn’t win, Runner Up is pretty sweet. I even got a prize and a gracious and generous letter!  Putting in your best effort still counts because you’ll never know if you’ll lose by a long shot or win only by a hundredth of a second.

Shoot, that’s the inspiration that pulses through me in the final minutes of the race, never mind when I see one of the vignettes on the athlete’s life and what it took for them to get here.

Blubberly Blubberly  mess. (insert soundtrack for The Notebook here)

I seriously  wish I could bottle and drink from that inspiration every day and not, for one second, forget it. Right now, I’m in abundance but why is it in human nature to forget?

I’d like to keep an extra vial of it on hand for when I see a friend needs it too.

I know a writer who finished her manuscript and found an agent, that’s like qualifying for the Olympics if you ask me. BRAVO!  You gotta be great to get there. You only need to ask a writer who has a half-finished manuscript in their drawer how much determination and dedication it takes to finish it, much less find an agent who’s interested. It is not an easy process. Hell, one re-write can set you back into a pair of emotional sweatpants from where there seems to be no extrication.

Wanting to write a book is like training for the Olympics. You can have a natural aptitude for writing, but working on craft and trying to expose emotional truths so that others relate to it can be grueling.  12 hours of mind trampoline training a day.   You’re liable to sprain your wrist on the laptop! You have to make it great, not good, not good enough. Then you have to convince a publishing house that it is great. It’s an exhausting road.

Ever wrestle yourself to the floor? That’s what writing can feel like even if you’re sitting by a picturesque window with steam rising from a tea cup and a leather journal by your side.  Every writer knows that some days resemble Fight Club.

inside every writer’s mind Brad Pitt’s abs….I mean the internal battle with yourself!

The fight’s in your head.

It ain’t pretty to train but you do get stronger.

My friend’s manuscript keeps getting rejected (par for the course for all writers) and I’m afraid it’s wearing on her resolve. I’m sure the disappointment is huge and deflating. But I feel fiercely hopeful for her and want to remind her not to give up.  This must be what it felt like for the Russian gymnast who worked so hard to get to Olympics and practically fell on her face during the end of her floor routine. So much hinged on a 1 minute routine. Her tears on the sideline let you know that she felt like an epic failure. But of course we know she’s not. You don’t make it into the Olympics if you’re an epic failure.

You don’t finish a manuscript and get an agent if you stink at what you do. Your determination and skill got you there in the first place. Timing is everything. You give it your best shot.  You fall. You get up. You do it again. When you’re out of steam you need only look at how far you’ve come. You’re in the game.

Let’s Not Call It Hiking

Aerial view of Boulder. How can you not take those mountains seriously?

My writing friend, Lisa, emailed me yesterday and asked, “Would you like to go on a hike?” It evokes the same kind of response as if she asked, would you like to bike in strong winds?

(Sound of tea cup hitting a saucer.) Somebody pass me a Victorian parasol, the sun feels a little strong.

It’s something about the imagery of the word hike that immediately sets forth a grueling image of endurance. It overpowers my idea of a nice view pay-off or anything pleasant for that matter. I picture un-scalable vertical face mountains, my Polish white skin bubbling in sun blisters and muttering profanity to myself while being dusted by groups of people who appear as if their heart rate is barely above normal.

It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors. I do. I do. I lived in Maine for 10 years.  I have been on hikes, even in Alaska.  Heck I’ve even been on a 3 day trek in Thailand. I love enjoying the outdoors I just don’t like approaching it as if I have to reckon with it.

The moment it gets serious with galactic power juice, walking staffs, camel paks that hold 3 liters of water and use of the word wicking when it comes to shirt and socks, as we say in Lowell, “I’m outta here.”

In the land of Colorado, where Denver ranks high as one of the healthiest cities and professional athletes come to work out at high altitude, people take the outdoors very seriously.

Even on the city’s walking/bike path I’ve come across cyclists who zip by at Tour De France speed while I pump the pedals of my blue cruiser, at a handle bar shaking  5 miles per hour.  There are also fitness buffs that run up and down the 192 steps of Red Rocks Amphitheater (alt. 6,400 feet above sea level) for fun. I’ve never done this but you can pay an exercise group to force you.

I wrote back to my friend Lisa admitting that I was a somewhat wimpy hiker and besides, I had a blog to write.  Surely, that was enough to have her leave me behind.

She called a few minutes later.

“It’s not going to be that kind of hike.”

“Will we see mountain goats? Is oxygen necessary?”

(laughter)

“No, no. We’re not hiking a 14er.” (This I should have automatically known given our 2:45pm start time.)

“It’s Chautauqua in Boulder. We’re just getting together to go out and be physical.  Get a work out. Pretty easy trail, but you know, with some uphill. There will be places for us to rest. I’m just going to wear shorts and bring a granola bar in my pocket.”

“Oh!” I breathed in relief, “sure, that sounds great! You said all the right words. One last thing, I’m not a gear head or anything. I don’t own $500 gortex jackets. I’m going to look like I dressed at a Goodwill sale.”

“No problem. I bought my shorts at Goodwill.”

This is the kind of hiking I can handle!

Chautauqua!

The gear. The clothing. It’s all too much for my urban regulation black closet.  I once did some light hiking in Aspen in a pair of Ann Taylor office capris.

Yup, those are my Ann Taylor Capris. July 2010

I’m not sure why I didn’t pack my yoga pants. I do own those. I think it’s because I never know what to wear the yoga pants with… I can’t wear tanks (too much white skin to protect for extended outdoor time) and I don’t own that many t-shirts as I loathe crew necks.  I have closet full of clothes but nothing quite matches up right in the mountain activity department.

I get all worked up that I don’t have the right thing to wear.  I’m always realizing too late that I don’t have something.  I need long sleeves and only have short. I have a hoodie but not a wind breaker. I have yoga pants but not the perfect shirt.

It’s like when I go to the grocery store and buy spaghetti sauce but forget the pasta. The items in the grocery bag don’t always add up to the meal I was planning.  It’s the same for my hiking outfits. I try to remedy this but when the season changes, the hiking invitations stop and I forget. Until I’m asked again and find myself throwing clothes behind my shoulder as I dig through every drawer.

When I first moved to Colorado, I showed up for a hike at a friend’s house wearing black yoga pants and a black t-shirt.

“Is this what you’re wearing?” my friend asked in a quiet up-beat voice, as he assessed that I would attract every UV ray in the sky and incinerate in the field.

“Let’s trade out your shirt for this white one.”

“Oh Thanks. Boston Red Sox shirt! I would have worn white if I owned anything like that.”

I realized that I either own clothes for late night dancing in Buenos Aires, office casual, or clothes for coal mining. Missing from my wardrobe is fashion active wear.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to shop for it but when I flip up the Patagonia price tag I say to myself, I’d rather save the money and go to Patagonia.

Coal mining outfits, you are here to stay.

I managed to pull together a decent outdoor outfit: Sneakers, black shorts, white jog bra and a light terra cotta t-shirt topped off with a Wild Horse Vineyard baseball cap and my Jackie O sunglasses. To my regret, no photo available.

We hiked for about 2 hours. I was surprised at times to find myself slightly ahead of my friends and was disappointed when the ominous clouds urged that we start heading back.

The views were great. The trees were lovely and I didn’t need NASA inspired fabric to live through my hike. I also noticed different berries and upon my friend’s prompting, asked the Park Ranger about them.

I actually like to hike when I think of it as ‘a walk through the woods’ or an adventure of seeing something new even if it was all up hill and my heart was pounding.  I quite enjoyed myself. I would do it again.

Can we just not call it hiking?

Doses of Reality

In my mind, I’m floating there right in the middle.

I miss being on the east coast right now because I’d love to be in the cold, goose pimply, scream-because-you-can’t-help-it ocean. After the heart-pumping shock, I’d like to float on my back and welcome the water to plug my ears. I’d marvel at the underwater sounds, the tiny gurgles and deep echoes. I’d work to steady my breath.  I’d remember to float, not fight. The sun would warm my face and I’d squint to catch a glimpse of the sky. I’d let the ocean offer its calm.

If only the ocean was a short car ride away from landlocked Colorado.  Instead, I roasted in the 100+ degree heat yesterday until I sought overnight refuge at a friend’s glacially chilled condo.  It got so cold in the night I actually slipped on my jeans and went back to bed. I could have turned down the Air Conditioning- that would have been logical.  But, in the wee hours of the morning, I thought putting on jeans would expend less energy than taking two steps into the hallway to turn up the thermostat. It can be said that I was sleepy. I think I was holding onto relief, not matter its extremes.

Maybe I want to float in the ocean because I need a decompression tank.  My mind’s been grappling with so many unfathomable things of late: Hearing about the innocents who lost their lives watching a movie; wondering how my friends will cope with their child’s serious illness; watching other friends deal with major health issues, grief and divorces. At the same time I’m celebrating weddings, adoptions, birthdays.    Plus, I’m setting new career and health goals for myself.  Every spectrum of emotion is being represented. It’s awesome but overwhelming to see that so much can happen at once. It can. It does. It will keep doing so.

My mind is deep in thought with all these acute doses of reality. Lately, the doses have been dispensed fast and furious, like the fires that covered a portion of Colorado. I saw photos of people’s homes burnt totally to the ground. Nothing but white ash left to touch. And yet, people rebuild with nothing.

The lingering question on my mind while all these dramatic events are happening at once is the same question people asked during the fires: when will it all be contained?

It seems impossible to imagine life being resorted back to some kind of normal as things spiral out of control and require super human effort. Yet, somehow we can bring the wildest fire back to manageable again– with the help of others.

A friend of mine from Maine recently joked with me about contemplating ‘rubbish in space’. We like saying that phrase for two reasons.

1) rubbish is a fun word to say.

2) Even though garbage is always a concerning subject, imagining it suspended, cartoon-like against the backdrop of deep black space makes for a meditative distraction.

Garbage shouldn’t be floating anywhere, nor should it be dotting the face of the Himalayas but for a few seconds at least it keeps me from thinking about what’s happening here on street level.

Maybe that’s why I want to feel suspended in the ocean right now. The heart can only handle so much before the mind goes blank.

Driving While Blind

I unexpectedly flew to New Jersey last week to be with my best friend, Denise and her husband. They received devastating news that their newborn son was diagnosed with a rare genetic  disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1. Doctors estimate 1-2 years of life at best. It doesn’t seem like the word best should be allowed in that sentence.

When Denise called to tell me, she was crying so hard I could hardly understand a word she said. When you hear a cry like that, it’s your body not your mind that processes the gravity in nanoseconds. It’s a numbness, a hollowness that spreads through your body like spider-cracking glass.  I pressed the phone to my face wanting to hug her.  I could feel the heart’s undoing.

They had just spent the fall and winter with me in Denver on a work stint. We bought ski passes together and looked forward to having an exceptional winter, despite the low snow fall. Friends together.  Reunited. Ski bunnies in the snow.

When Denise’s pregnancy progressed, she hung out in the lodge and read while her husband and I skied.  They headed back to their home in New Jersey in April to get ready for the delivery of their beautiful baby boy.  (As you may remember from a previous post, her husband was the one who encouraged me down the double black diamond.)  I hope his gentleness and fearlessness comes to serve them now in their moments of happiness and pain. During the allowing and the bracing. There is so much ahead that they are aware of but can’t see.

It reminded me of the time we drove to Winter Park. On our way up the mountain, we encountered 90+mph winds that created total white out conditions. It wasn’t a blizzard happening. It was intense wind blowing all the snow off the mountain.  “The worst my sister’s ever seen,” said a man who shared a lift with me later. “She lives here.”

There was no turning around once we started up the mountain. Break lights that once appeared 30 feet ahead of us, like a helpful beacon, disappeared completely.

We couldn’t see the winding road anymore. The windshield wipers were nearly useless, except that their movement prevented a freezing shell, inching its way up, from forming.

It was a battle between the defrost and keeping the windows open so we could crane our necks out and guide ourselves on an invisible road. Three sets of eyes focused on different aspects of our movement. We drifted to the wrong side at least twice that we noticed.

This was a kind of panic that shuts the radio off and no one speaks unless necessary. My friend’s husband, who was driving, had remarkable calm. I kept thinking, that’s good. That’s really good right now.

A quick glimpse of a patch of rock or a metal post, were our only signs that we had veered too far, and always a second within not too late.

These extremes were slowly guiding us back toward the middle. It’s a place I want my friends to keep finding.

When you’re on a mountain escarpment, there is no pulling off to the side of the road. There isn’t one. There is no stopping, for fear of surprising the vehicle behind or worse not being able to start again.

There’s an unspoken force that makes you move forward, even when you’re blinded.

Wheels threatened our journey forward with their unpredictable spins in place and fish tailed us to and fro. I realized there are so many things that can go wrong. So many things you can’t control even if you try to will it.

It’s like that.

You can go for a fun day of skiing and find yourself inching your way out of lost. You can be a new parent and be handed the task of knitting joy with grief. One lasts a half hour, the other a lifetime.

I think of my parents. Young. 30s. Living the American dream. Working multiple jobs. Struggling to learn English and making a place for themselves and their family in a new world. They were full of hopes and moved toward all the good that they could imagine. All that was meant to be theirs.  I know this because there are photo albums full of parties they went to. Balloons and cigarettes and drinks and toothy smiles.  Care free days before their dreams got shaken loose, got changed from the ways they imagined them.

Dad suddenly had mysterious symptoms. Numbness, tingling, tripping over his own feet. Blindness.  Can you imagine losing your sight for a few seconds not knowing if it will come back? For some, with MS, it doesn’t.  My parents trucked on with tears and uncertainty as close companions as my Dad became paralyzed. What does it take to embrace that?

Finding joy in the everyday. Pushing onward in the face of pain. Appreciating the time you have.

I’ve learned something from them. While inevitable, it’s best not to focus too long on why the bad luck of being in a terrible storm, instead you have to ask yourself, how the hell do I make it through?

It’s what makes navigating a road both singular and collective. Even if no one is in your car, even if you can’t see people behind you and ahead of you, even if you think you’re the only one about to go off a mountain in the quiet slip of the snow, there are people sharing the same road.

There are invisible people pushing you forward.

Love is already forming a rescue.

Memories of Wackiness and Patriotism

 

Perfect Picnic Attire

With Fourth of July approaching, I thought it would be good to do a post about the holiday. I pondered how my immigrant parents celebrated when I was younger and whether anything stood out. Nothing unusual came to mind except the way my mother pronounced Firecracker (Fire-Krah-keh) and Hot Dogs (Hot Dog-zeh). We had cookouts with all the usual American fare with some Polish Kielbasa mixed in.  Two distinct memories came to mind and while they don’t relate to the Fourth specifically, they are memories of wackiness and patriotism.

I’ll start off by saying; we’re not a bumper sticker type family.  Once in the parking lot of DeMoulas grocery store in the 1970s, someone handed me a campaign sticker. City Council? Mayor? I don’t remember.  Two things I do remember: it was a big sticker and it was free.  I begged my father to put it on the bumper. He was the kind of guy who wore French cuff links, kept a neat mustache and wore ties and colored polyester pants.

“Buhmperrr sticker! What are you crazy?”

“But Dad!”

“Why should I advertise them?”

I’unno. Just want to look cool is probably what I thought.  I learned at an early age that if you advertise something on your car, it’s serious business.

I only remember two things ever adorning my father’s car. 1.)  A big yellow ribbon dangling from the antenna in honor of the US hostages in Iran. It was replaced when the ends tattered.

2.) A vanity license plate that was so unlike my father’s personality (but not unlike his humor) that I had to confirm with my brothers that I didn’t imagine it. He bought it during one of our vacations in Cape Cod.

It was red and white. A hippie sat with a smoking joint between his fingers with the caption:

“If you’re so damn smart, why ain’t you rich?”

It graced the front of our orange Gran Torino.  I vaguely remember my Dad asking me to stand in front of it once in the church parking lot. I’m not sure if it was the joint, the damn, or the dirty hippie he was hiding.   I think my Dad intended it as a funny keepsake for the peg board in the garage but I have a memory of peeling off the shrink wrap and attaching it to the front of the car with my brothers.  Later when the joke got old, it resumed its home above the workbench.

When my mom got her license, she too kept a pristine car. Not only was her car sticker free but she also kept an afghan laid across the back seat to prevent sun damage to the upholstery.

That all changed on 9/11 when I noticed two matchbook size American Flag stickers affixed to her red Ford Taurus. Her haste with small details was evident, because not only were these permanent stickers (not decals) stuck on from the outside; the flag in the corner of the back windshield was placed upside down. The other one, the one that made my throat tighten with emotion was stuck on the driver’s side window just about a hands-width above the door lock.  She couldn’t have associated that sticker any closer to herself than if she had worn it over her own heart.

 

 

Self-Perception that Mind-Changing Beast

 

To show one’s face is part of having the courage to show who one is. And coming to terms with your own face takes a lifetime. Just think how, when you were twelve or sixteen, you wished you looked different.  And that’s true for everyone; even the most perfect, beautiful boy or girl is dissatisfied. So why is that? It can’t just be that you don’t look like the model on the magazine cover.  It’s something else. You haven’t yet accepted your fate, who you are. As you get older that relationship between your face and who you are matures. They blend together. Your true self shows more.

–          James Hillman

 

Last night the oppressive heat and I had an arm wrestle. It won. My two fans were a weak show to the 102 degree heat. I sat down to write my blog and I struggled to write the first hundred words about the bird eggs that hatched outside my kitchen window. I could hardly get words onto the page. My brick bungalow heated up like a toaster oven, that small but powerful kiln that I cooked my favorite Stouffer’s pepperoni pizza in when I was a kid.  The same pizza that I sometimes forgot about when I watched TV, only to open the rectangular door 45 minutes later and discover a good inch of charred edges. That’s how I felt last night, a brainless piece of petrified bread, the kind that you can hit against the counter with a satisfying knock. Useless.

The approximate temperature of my house on Saturday.

 

I gave up trying to write. Even my laptop was a step away from lighting on fire. I assumed the starfish position under the ceiling fan and contemplated sleeping on the front lawn in my underwear but thought better of it; The grass is more sand pit these days than a plush pile rug. I roasted slowly in my sleep.

It’s a good thing my writing was halted last night, because I read this Hillman quote in an interview while I had my tea on my front porch this morning and changed my subject matter. I’ve wanted to write about self-perception, that strange and mind-changing beast for a while. Up until now, I had no clear ideas or format. Just random thoughts, like the floaties you can sometimes see in your eyes. There and then gone.  But this quote glued something together for me.

 

Let’s start with a photo from my teenage years.

 

What I hoped my haircut would make me look like:

 

 

What I actually looked like:

 

It appears my  hairdresser misunderstood me and I got more Shawn Cassidy than Farrah Fawcett at Supercuts. I want my 10 bucks back.

One thing I’ve noticed looking back at photos is that I’m often surprised by my perception of how I looked/felt about myself and the reality of what a photo revealed to me years later. Thinking I looked cool but didn’t or that I actually looked great (photo not pictured) even though at the time I remembered thinking less of myself because I wanted to look better somehow- better body, better hair, taller, thinner, less freckles, tanner or whatever characteristic was most wanted at the time. Held against whatever invisible measuring stick we all hold ourselves to. I often say to myself, geez, what was I complaining about? I should have been more than happy to look that way. This photo doesn’t represent that sentiment exactly because I don’t ever want the Daivd Cassidy look again. But its unconsciousness reminds me of what’s real and that self-consciousness is something to let go of.

If only I could always carry such wisdom every day and not forget I am one in the same person, all through the years.  Sure we grow and change…but it’s not like the geeky self was someone who hijacked my body and then was never heard from again. All the thousands of verisons of me up until now:  Still me.

As I get older, I’ve learned that there is room to love the glamour self, the geek, the skinny, the average or overweight, the fashion confused or the fashion forward self because all of those identities move with me. We ought to be a little kinder to ourselves along the way.  I’m talking about the silent and seemingly innocuous but negative things we say to ourselves. That little voice that wishes our image could look a little better. The same voice that got me to take my Visa photos for South East Asia a few times so that I could live with a photo that would stick in my passport for a very long time.

I think that’s why I love this Polaroid picture. Life and self is represented here as it was. An un-airbrushed slice.

To the left is one of three rotary phones we owned. To the right, my questionable choice of white sports socks with my ensemble. Above, a pastel portrait of me done in Cape Cod at age nine.

There could be no truer image of that very moment. I love that my deep sullen thoughts were caught unawares on film.  I am positive I yelled at my brother for snapping this photo. I had no time to pose, think of the look I wanted to portray, or hide my socks (would I think to?), or chose a place other than my dark-paneled living room with 1960s lamp still in plastic to showcase myself. It’s hideous and wonderful. Hideous only because I’m comparing it to contemporary fashions and wonderful because I recognize myself.

Maybe this is what’s really behind a good hearty chuckle when we see photos of ourselves from different eras and say Oh my God! That’s hysterical! Maybe it’s so hysterical because we can see some true part of ourselves which is to say we see our vulnerability.  So we laugh because what is there to do with something so unbearably sweet and hopeful. What else is there to do but know you’re the same person with different clothes and a new haircut.