Monday, November 12, 2007

Beam Me Down Scotty...

As I careen with slight panic towards a birthday possibly indicating (depending on whom you ask) "middle age" I find myself often agog at the incredible amount of adventure that has characterized my life. In the rare quiet moments here at McMurdo when I greedily fix up an hour or so of solitude, my mind naturally pulls up certain memories and periods of my life, that once reflected upon, have a delicious richness that I had no awareness of while I was actually experiencing them, that seemed banal or unexciting at the time. I wonder if memory & aging have a way of sweetening periods of my life that I considered "hellish" or dull at the time. I think of my 4 years in college and find myself stricken as I contemplate the sheer wildness and intensity of it. I was caught up in an incredible wave of joy, music & tribelike comraderie that I had never anticipated, yet very much needed. Some of the darker times that felt so bereft even years later now seem like an incredible journey that was taken sheerly out of curiosity & id gone wild. I guess the old saying about "regretting the things you haven't done instead of the things you have" has become partially true: I have no regrets about he past - and I especially love that I HAVE a past. I am not old yet, but feel I am at that crux of life where worn in habits that no longer serve need to be dropped & a certain maturity brought in. It feels like a huge relief to say goodbye to the girl obsessed with her weight & her clothes & how many boys want her - I love that I look forward, almost wild-eyed & heart racing, to getting in bed two hours early to read a novel or a juicy magazine. I love that I don't have to waste precious scooter-riding hours having brain hurting conversations about my role as a breeder (I never wanted to, they always thought I'd change my mind). I am finally old enough that it's no longer a topic for discussion.

For my birthday I was sent the entire 87 episode 60's Star Trek television series (thanks mom & dad!) I started watching this show when I was living in New York City, in a basement apt. in Queens, drinking like a fish and wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life, which was not turning out as I'd planned. Instead of becoming a famous film director, I was working temp jobs and standing at gritty, dangerous subway stops, going further & further away from the city, and drinking in a dive bar. Star Trek was on every night at 9:00pm on the only channel I could get, and I started enjoying it so much I started going home instead of to the bar so I could watch it (I had never watched it in the 60's). I will not wax on about Star Trek - those who know, know. The later "generations" don't have the same Proustian like, life-changing effect on me so I'm strictly a 60's purist. I just watched about 4 episodes in a row, and got good reminder lessons on selfishness vs. self sacrifice - letting go of the small "I" for the greater good, and my favorite words from Spock: "sometimes you will find that having is not as pleasurable as wanting". The relationships between the main characters & their world(s) become so compelling, I feel as if I am embedded with this crew. I have about 96 days left here so I'm going to try & watch the entire 3 year series. ST played a vital role in another period in my life in the late 80's when I was going through a painful break-up. I wouldn't leave the house & just sat around for weeks "grieving", then finally got bored enough to turn on the TV and within a week or so of bonding with Kirk, Bones & Spock, I was refreshed & out hitting the town again. I felt nurtured & guided out of my pain as I hurtled through the galaxies with the Enterprise, leaning on my futuristically-garbed friends, learning to embrace each day as new, and to always move forward. A bit of time for navel-gazing is ok, but there are worlds out there to conquer....I also always find the contrast of the heavy themed underbelly of the plot with the utter cheesiness of the sets and costumes part of the show's power.

On the subject of wanting vs. having, in my present job I am having exactly what I wanted: lots of outdoor physical work, the operating of heavy equipment, and a fun & chaotic work center...but, as is always the case, when one gets what one wants, one wants something better...or something different....I find myself feeling like I don't get to outside enough or I'm not getting to drive the loader as much as somebody else. I've been having to step back & tell myself how much better I have it this season than last (when I was in a windowless cubicle!) and not freak out anytime I have to do desk work. Unfortunately, I am very good with details & paperwork & that work is usually entrusted to me. I often think of misfiling things terribly or doing a horrid job of it (which is how a lot of people get out of it down here) but it is not in my a nature: I am hardwired to be an excellent clerical worker even though I can't stand doing very much of it. So, in honor of getting what I wanted, I have attached photos of myself in an IT28 loader of the vintage model we have here on station. We have two loaders in Carp Supply. I prefer "Kathy" while my coworker prefers "Loralee" (all the tractors here have names). One always feels cool driving around station in a loader. This is one of the things I never knew I'd love doing, but it requires a lot of thinking and concentration so it can be very satisfying. When I was 20 years old living in the moment having the time of my life dancing at punk clubs in Austin, I could have never imagined I'd be forking 7000 pound crates around a work camp in Antarctica. Sometimes, having IS as good as wanting....Marsha out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Of Pickling and Proust

Today marks one month on Ice. I'm really enjoying my work center - fun people, lots of running around making deliveries, shovelling snow, operating heavy equipment, and some desk work. I don't have a lot of interesting stuff to report but I want this blog to remain "active"(!) and I promise pictures soon. I just finished repacking a milvan with a pickle - it was loads of fun, and a wee taste of the joy of ship offload (in January). I've been reading a lot this season - a satisfying read was "The Year of Reading Proust" by Phyllis Rose. It's the most recent memoir I've read in my past few years of "memoir only" reading. I just tried to break my memoir addiction by picking up a pulitzer prize winning fiction novel, but after about 20 pages I put it down for a mediocre memoir about an uptight priggish Australian woman ("Leaves From My Diary"). I couldn't put it down even though it was a "fake" memoir! So, in "The Year of Reading Proust" I read about another writer's experience of reading Proust and how it changed her life - I needed this book, as I've never been able to get past the first 50 pages of "Recherche du Temps Perdu" myself (Rose also said she'd never been able to get past "the first 50 pages" but made a commitment to read all the volumes in one year). I even organized a "book club" with a friend to make myself read it & he succeeded, but I was frustrated with the tedium & put it down. The idea of reading about someone who read a famous work may seem dull to some, but Rose is a compelling writer when writing about the personal experience - her soul blossoms as she reads Proust, making small & large life decisions based on what seems like a "What Would Proust Do" sort of philosophy - his words become a guiding voice which develops as his work reveals deeper truths to her about human nature. Almost 100 years before the psychotherapy movement, Proust seemed to have his finger (and pen) on the pulse of the soul of man, and the deeper motivations underlying his behavior - & this was absorbed by Rose the writer and human being as she plows through the enormous ultra-detailed descriptions of the minutae of parties, feelings and obsessions which characterizes Proust's work. I could never get past the 500 or so pages of him wanting his mother to kiss him goodnight, but I didn't have to - Ms. Rose wrote a smart person's Cliff Notes of "Remembrance...", and extricated the lush revelations I didn't have patience or muturity to glean for myself. I think I'll be ready when I turn 50 to read Proust's seven volumes (note: Fifty is Many Years Away)...but for now, I have a stack of ordinary person memoirs to read, and hopefully I'll have some Antarctic news soon...!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ice - "Season Four"

I'm on the Ice again - my fourth season...each season I have more trepidation than the last. So much is known, so many freedoms previously taken for granted off Ice now appear super delicious (ie: driving, reading in bed til 1:00am, nuggling with Fergus), but, even though I brace myself for 6 months of frozen regimentation, I also feel a huge sense of relief for that same reason. I don't have to make any decisions - I work hard, eat, sleep, watch movies & read books. It's easy. And hard. My first week of work was so physically demanding that I thought I would crack. I shoveled snow, lifted lumber, climbed in & out of loaders til my bones ached. But now, comfortably entering my fourth week, I enjoy the outdoor hard work mixed with some desk time each day. I really need to load some pictures. I work at the Carp Shop this year which is on a hill and has a stupendous view of the mountains during this season of glorious pink light & eternal sunsets. It's still too bloody cold to hike around much, but we are enjoying a much milder winfly than last year. Will & I have our giant room again until we move to our 'permanent' dorm, and this year we put in one of those industrial space heaters so the room is toasty.

I'm writing this bit a couple of weeks later...still no photos..warm enough to walk around without my coat while I'm working. This is the only place I've ever been that I love being outside all the time. If I ever wonder why the heck I came back here, the answer is always waiting when I walk down the hill after work: the sunset over the mountains - and the awe & gratitude I still feel being in this amazing place!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Seven "Stairs" & Some Grit

We are still in Romania. I didn't want to jam too much info in one post and the Seven "Stairs" deserves it's own chapter (the "grit" will be at the end). I wasn't paying attention when Eugene (our hotelier, tour guide & professor of Romanian history) was describing in detail the Seven Stairs hike (you will understand later why I put "stairs" in quotation marks). I was stuck on the part before when he was talking about the 2 hour trek near a highway before you even get to the infamous hiking spot. I had been walking all day every day in blazing hot sun since Prague & was trying to stay sane and focus on the delights of Europe instead of my Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms, which were starting to catch up with me. I never go out in the sun back home, but didn't wan't to seem like a killjoy & not go on the hike. I also did not anticipate the unusual heatwave that was occurring wherever we travelled, thus did not bring my enormous black sun hat, which has a 15" brim. I will devote a future post to my adverse relationship with the sun, but back to the story...we left Eugene's house in the morning and indeed, it was about a two hour walk to the park area where we were to then hike another hour or so before we arrived at the stairs. I was really tired & couldn't imagine that I could keep on going, but we stopped for lunch and a few breaks along the way, and once we got into a more wooded area (ie: shady), my energy returned. We saw some strange signs (they were in Romanian) aong the way and Will, who HAD been paying attention to Eugene's detailed instructions on how to find the stairs, was able to figure them out. The faded signage, busted up river crossing logs, and excess of detritus in the park led me to believe that this national landmark was not maintained or overseen by anyone. This was not an issue until we finally beheld the Seven "Stairs" with our own eyes (hello lawsuit)!
In the photo with the red LADDER you are seeing one of the "stairs!" This is not a good photo but if you enlarge it you can see I am at the top & Will is at the bottom, waving at me. On the right is a raging waterfall! This was the second or third ladder I'd climbed and I was soaking wet from the falls, the rickety ladders are shaking & clanging as if they about to collapse, and there is apparently one bolt holding this whole contraption together. Something happened when I started climbing those ladders & got closer to the danger & violence of this place: I started feeling really excited & happy! They'd never let people loose on this stuff in the states! The risk factor is just too high. I wanted to keep ascending, but there were less & less boards to walk on between "stairs" and Will wasn't up for it. I did get to climb pretty high though and it exhilarated me for the rest of the day and made the 3 hour walk back more tolerable. We had spent a fun-filled week in Brasov & it was time to move on. We were overnight training it to Sofia, Bulgaria, switching trains in Bucharest. We had an hour or so to walk around before our sleeper train left for Sofia, so we hoofed it around the Bucharest station. We finally found the "grit" I'd been looking for. A train station is usually in a sketchy neighborhood and this one was great. I would have taken more photos but we had to dodge the glue-sniffing kids who wanted money from us, and photo taking requires some pausing. Will knows I like dive bars even though I don't drink, and he was relishing the super cheap beer in Eastern Europe, so we found a funky little bar near the station & he ordered a beer while I soaked up the rich earthy ambience of the old place...Irish pubs were where I first learned that a bar can feel like home, so whenever I have to go into one, I like the small tucked away one that the locals use - the ones no yuppie or tourist would dare enter. And when we were paying the tab to leave, the bartender struck up a conversation with us (Romanians under age 50 all speak flawless English). He had a genuine curiosity about where we were from & about our travels. He was young & I could see that for him & other young people I'd observed that the US is a dazzling & mysterious mecca of lush goods and wanton freedoms; and that perhaps he didn't run into Americans too often at this little hole in the wall bar so we seemed particularly exotic to him. Our scruffy and rumpled selves may have held out a world of promise for him: of working overseas, of world travel (we told everyone we were "from" Antarctica). I wish I had a picture of him - his openness and generosity of spirit made me realize why I travel: people everywhere are awesome, especially in the places where you are led to believe they are not. I think that is why I love gritty places so much - there is always so much soulfulness in the people there...


These beautiful sun-drenched pictures are of and around Brasov, Romania - specifically, the region known as Transylvania...people who know me for even a brief time know that I love cloudy, foggy, roiling dark skies, and can become almost comatose with despair when the sky is relentlessly sunny. I have someting I call "sun (bad) karma", where, no matter where I go the sun is there: Portland, Scotland (as you will see), San Fran & the Netherlands all just go on high fry when I arrive. I don't want to rant about it too much because most of you have heard it too much already! But imagine my surprise to find Transylvania like Houston in August - full on sun BaBAY! So we stayed a week in this beautiful place (sunny, yet cool), a mountain town near a ski resort. I scored yet another great find on Hostelworld: the private home of Eugene & his sweet elderly mother. We basically had our own apartment with computer at a very cheap price. Our host, Eugene, also provided tour guiding services, so for one entire day he carted us around to look at lovely buildings & gorgeous scenery. The top photo is of Will in downtown Brasov, a nice pedestrian-mall type area. The building with the red tile roof is what is popularly known as "Dracula's" Castle - a non-scary & bright domicile with a cold, bare interior. On our tour we also went to a fabulous old fort, and that beautiful palace in the second photos...if you want historically accurate details & place names you've come to the wrong blog! So we would not be bored on the driving part of the tour, our host regaled us with his conspiracy theories about various topics...some bizarre enough to have us questioning his sanity...but spending time with an educated local, who lived half of his life under communism was extemely satisfying. We asked him tons of questions about what it was like and how things had changed, and got a real education about communist Romania. So many myths busted on this tour so far: the "evil" commies, the street urchin pick pockets everywhere, the dreary vibe of Eastern Europe (which I would have loved). So far we had met only kind & gracious people, felt completely safe - even bold enough to wear my "special white man wallet" conspiciously OUTSIDE of my shirt, and a climate so balmy & festive (to some) it could have been mistaken for the south of France. Was it going to get grittier in Bulgaria, our next stop? Would it ever be overcast before Scotland? We'll see......

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Prague & Budapest

On April 22nd I met Will in Prague for a 5 week European adventure that we were going to do totally on the fly...we had found a tour we could have joined & used that as a guideline for where we wanted to go, but decided to trust our own abilities to negotiate logistics and did a fairly amazing job it...and probably had a much better time than if we'd been on a first off, after an exciting reunion with Will (who'd been travelling around for weeks before I even got there), we hit the city & walked til late in the evening. He had the bus & trains down already, so we used local transport & hoofed it all day exploring this amazing place. Prague was beautiful & ancient as I'd been told; and in April already packed to the gills with tourists - but it was so clean & perfect it almost had a Disneyland feel. I was expecting some former communist era grit, but that was to be found later...all in all, Prague is lovely, fairly cheap to eat in (train station hotdogs rock-but the squirt factor is really high: I ruined 3 garments with one bite), and is the perfect Old European City. I heard it referred to as the new Paris....the Communist Museum was especially great.... So after 5 great days in Prague we took an overnight sleeper train to Budapest. The private overnight sleeper train rocks! You get your travel & night's lodging at a reasonable price, and basically get a whole extra day in the town you're visiting. We'd arrive early in the morning, and the places we stayed at were kind enough to let us check in early, so sometimes we'd even get to check into our hotel at like 8:00am, take a nap, then toss back a steaming thimbleful of Nescafe, & hit the town! Yes, Europeans are obsessed with Nescafe (I was recently talking to someone under 30 who didn't know what Nescafe was so I had to describe the freeze dried "crystals" that were a big hit in the 70's, but I don't even know if you can buy it anymore in the states). Many weeks later, when I see my first Starbucks (in Greece), it was like seeing a giant icy glass of water in a desert & I sprinted towards the green logo with coddling modern couches as if my feet were on fire. Mainly, I wanted a large vessel of java..everywhere else in Europe had tiny, almost doll sized cups...and I don't care how strong the coffee might be in that Barbie Fun Mug, I need Large Quantities of coffee in the a.m. Excited to be in Turkey & try their famous coffee, imagine my dissapointment when the black sludgy liquid arrived in a one sip container...I had to race to the Starbucks in Istanbul to get my giant cup that I am apparently psychologically addicted to. The great thing about Nescafe is you get a good caffeine buzz, so that when we stayed at places that had the little individual serving "tubes", I'd have 4 or 5 & be set for the day...okay, enough about the coffee! I'll try to stay on topic with the Europe trip, as I'm writing this in July and there is much more ground to, Budapest was similar to Prague, but we lucked into a super groovy hostel I found on Hostelworld that was described as a "crumbling 500 year old building right on the Danube river.." I was in! It was a little pricey, but the Green Bridge Hostel was exactly what I needed to feel like I was in an ancient country. As in Prague, I was once again shocked by the clean grandeur of this large, formerly communist metropolis: where were the sooty stone block houses, the paint-huffing teens, the hunched over "bohemians" in rumpled dirty overcoats carrying tattered notebooks filled with depressing poetry?

After walking around & marvelling at the glitzy city we took a Danube River cruise on our last evening. We were excited to get onto our next adventure: further east on another overnight train to a location Will had picked: Brasov, Romania! That for sure sounded filled with ominous clouds, dark skies and gritty streets...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Learning to Ski

Since my last post there has been: redepolyment Feb. 14th from the Ice, two fun filled weeks of travel in NZ with Will (he has detailed the itinerary on his blog, which you can read by clicking "Blog de Brubaker" under the "links" section). I returned to Texas to reconnect with family & Fergus while preparing for a trip to Taos where I was going to go to learn to ski. Now, this is a sport that had never interested me, or really crossed my radar, until I visited two ski resorts last year and saw that people who skiied appeared to be really enjoying themselves. I'd had a semi-disastrous snowboard lesson in Jackson Hole - but despite the physical & psychic pain of that day, a seed was planted that made me want to try again. I decided that once my broken tailbone had healed, that I would consider taking snowboard or ski lessons again. After talking with lots of people, I decided skiing would be a better option than boarding, and I researched the internets until I found a ski school that included lodging, food, lessons, equipment and lift tickets for one price. The place I found was in Taos Ski Valley, so I paid them 6 months ahead so I'd have something to look forward to.

During the flight to Albuquerque I had the usual mind-sabatoge that occurs anytime I'm diving into the unknown: "what the hell do you think you're doing - you're not athletic!" "you're going to fail big time!" "you'll be the ONE person in the class who can't "get it"....etc, etc. Aside from having a natural fear of heights (which would include vertical drops), my fear was intensified the closer I got to the Ski Valley. On my 3 hour drive from ABQ I pondered bailing out & going to some other town, or staying at the lodge, eating the 4 course French meals and NOT skiing, or just showing up at a class or two & spending the rest of the time on my beloved square in Taos city. Thankfully, the more mature part of me put the kibbosh on those negative thoughts & decided after I'd arrived at this amazingly happy & supportive place that I was going to give the lessons my best. Short story is I had an amazing time - it was incredibly difficult & demanding psysically and psychologically. No part of my body wanted to "lean forward" going down a steep slope. When I fell, which was often, it was not pretty, and I always saw it as a failure. I had the same teacher for 6 days...after the second day I had him all to myself. He fussed at me & rolled his eyes because he said I was "holding back" and "not letting go" - two phrases which I really don't wanted associated with myself in anything I do! But I had to do something really difficult for me: I had to trust & believe what this instructor was telling me, NOT what the voices in my head were saying with increasing intensity. Smitty said to "lean forward to GET control" "be aggressive when you want to lean back". Everytime I fell I asked him "what happened?" & he said "you didn't FALL - you CHOSE to SIT!" Ack! He was right: when I got scared, I just wiped out from sheer panic. So there was a moment around my 3rd day where I made a decision to DO what he was telling me to, no matter how much the Voice told me he (Smitty, my instructor) was wrong. Getting my body to DO it was harder than I thought -but I only had to do it once to see that he was right, and that set me free to do it right every time. Against every fibre of my old programming I stood perched, with what was now semi-comfortable terror, looking down a slope; I thought about where I'd make my first turn...and then threw my body headfirst down the steep bowl (with a Braveheart-like pre battle scene growl on my face to make me feel agro) and felt for the first time the absolute control & power of going down the mountain, instead of just sliding fearfully until I fell - I was finally the one in control, not those sticks on my feet. I had my first blissful experience on skis....yeah! this was it! I didn't just successfully ski down a mountain with pretty, practiced turns - I had also succeeded in exploding an ugly old ultra negative scowling demon off my shoulder that had been perched there, to mess with me anytime I would try something new that felt awkard, uncomfortable, and had a steep learning curve. It would say "this is too hard for you! go read a book instead." It always wants me to play safe. But ignoring that voice & turning my trust over to this crotchety old ski instructor made me realize that I had not surrendered my will in this big a way in a very long time. It was all about trust, something I didn't realize that I was lacking so much of...the rest of my ski lessons were challenging & scary & really really fun. One day I forgot everything I'd learned & pretty much tumbled down an entire run. My last day I cruised down "blues" all morning, feeling confident and free.

Aside from skiing I met incredible people at this ski resort..there was comraderie at dinner...hours of laughter & sharing divine 4 course meals served by the 72 year old French hotel owner & expert skiier who beamed joy from morning 'til night. I sat every day with people who'd been skiing for 30-40-50 years and were just as interested in my experience as a first timer as I was in hearing about their extreme heli-ski adventures. I learned that the process of learning to ski was for me much more than about practicing some seemingly simple techniques - it was about conquering some big and ancient fears about my own abilities. It was about being willing to take a risk & succeed(!). It was about the joy of comradarie of a shared passion for a sport where the learning never ends.

I left Taos with this chunk of confidence in my system that was fresh and felt like a wide beautiful room one would walk in after being in a dark felt like a beautiful bird sitting on my shoulder, whispering into my ear with a sparkling gleam in its bottomless black eye..."more..." ..."let's go do more.."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Trip to an Exotic Island?

Not with sand and palm trees, as the word "island" suggests, but to a dirt brown, wind battered, hunk of rock called Black Island. It's a mere 10 minute helo trip (my first!), but I was giddy with anticipation. I knew I would be working, doing grueling inventory involving the counting of zillions of tiny connectors & thingamajigs, but it was with a really cool co-worker, and to a place that sounded exotic & was manned by a staff of 3. When I got off the bird, it was so windy that the station manager had to drag me to the house by hand...little did I know this would be my last moment of "outdoors" until I left two days later. It was like walking into a stranger's house after you'd run out of gas near their front yard. We tried to stay out of their way & do our work, but I was situated in a narrow hallway near the only bathroom ("poop in bag" style) so the working conditions weren't ideal. It felt a little awkward the first day...there were a couple of other townies out there building a road, & we all had a quiet (yet delicious) meal together. When I got into my top bunk with about an 8" clearance from the ceiling, I heard the wind howling outside like a hurricane - & had a surreal feeling that I was having my first glimpse of what it is like to be at a field camp or to be at some austere Antarctic outpost. Getting "out of town" is what we all aspire for. Some folks have jobs that take them out of town, but the rest of us have to do our time on station. People are insanely jealous of anyone who gets to get on a heli, herc, or twotter (twin-otter) to go anywhere, because that says you've paid some dues - done your time -or shone somehow at work. I had gone through a huge knot of resentment as I watched all season as people were getting to go places - I was paranoid I'd been forgotten, but my turn had finally come around. The actual hour to hour life there was not stunning: I spent most of my time alone counting things in a cold dark hallway, would tiptoe around Tony & Jess who were preparing meals, watching tv or resting. I would lie on my bunk after dinner with a flashlight reading a book I'd skua'd that turned out to be a disappointingly shallow travelogue. We spoke in whispers & I never got to walk around the island or see anything other than what you see pictured here. The camp boss forbade me to go outside as the wind never died down - it was just too dangerous. But some subtle transformation happened to me by the second night...I crawled into my cozy bunk with my book just suddenly blissed out at my exquisite solitude & change of place. I didn't want to leave...I was praying for a weather delay...I had epiphanies & dreams & thoughts that never have the space to emerge in my routine at Mactown. I got something I desperately needed deep down in my soul, and I don't even know what that was-but a lot of crappy stuff just melted away. Maybe it was just a trip out of town, the change in routine, or just being gone...but it is so interesting & delightful to think that something is going to be one way & it turns out to be another way...I thought there would be hiking & lovely scenery & ribald evenings laughing together in the living room - but there was none of that! But I think that what was there was some sort of desolate barreness that I was absolutley aching's like the universe had conspired to get me what I needed because it knows I am usually misguided in this department...I just knew I was tightly wound & was about to pop. When I got back from BI I was relaxed & had a sparkle in my eye & a calmness in my gut that I don't remember ever having but a for a few other moments ever...people keep asking me if I had FUN!! out there, and my answer is "no, I didn't have "fun" (deep breath intake as I pause to think about what kind of time I had)- I had something better than fun." I've probably had several lifetimes worth of "fun". It has taken me many years to realize there are states of being other than excitement & depression - and I am getting more comfortable exploring that limitless gray area between misery and joy....