Sunday, December 28, 2008

Intimacy of the Mundane

The top photo was taken in a small town in the Netherlands last year. The second in the elaborately art deco train station in Sofia, Bulgaria, the third in Yellowstone National Park. Because I have been having to blog at times lately without having had an "adventure" to blog about, I've been having to write about the mundane, which then feels like an adventure. I was listening to NPR the other day and a scientist was being interviewed who asked the question "would you rather go rock climbing or stay at home?" I turned up the volume as I was super curious about the kind of person who would want to "stay at home," since to me there is only one answer to that question. The scientist went on to talk about brain chemistry and how people who crave adventure derive a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from these experiences whereas the stay-at-homers brain functions differently. He said these were hardwired personality traits, and they must be as I've craved adventure/travel/intense experience as my first conscious memory. I've always also thought the homebodies were lazy, scared, or "squashed creatives," which may be the case with some people, but for many is just a personal preference. I always liked a place to come to to take a breather between adventures, but the discomfort level I feel about being "at home" more than several weeks always pushes me out the door. But as I've had the ability to do whatever I want for the past several years, I can now see the value in what I took for granted for so long when I was a homeowner & had a structured life. I can see the value but am not ready for it yet. I sort of want both lives but feel I have to commit to one more than the other. Adventure always wins. And it wins because it connects me with an intimacy that I don't feel when I stay home. Lately though, and upsetting to my m.o. I have been having these incredibly rich and connecting experiences in my daily, non-adventurous life. A lot of it is because I have gone deeper in my yoga practice, and that in itself is a joy beyond description, but more of it is just being awake to what is around me in the present moment. The "adventure" of being not in Antarctica for the holidays: the surreal X-mas frenzy, the beauty of early sunset and black skies after 4 seasons of 24 hour daylight. I suppose it's what one would call an inner adventure.  Being on stage in an improv class is not at exciting as waking up in Istanbul, but it is incredibly satisfying nonetheless. I get so hooked on thrills and the "new" that sometimes I rigidly refuse to accept something familiar and mundane as satisfying, but wall has been torn down, and I now see that it's all good, it's all interesting and fun and exciting...just in different ways.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ten Degrees in Texas

That's right. Today, with wind chill, it's 10F degrees in Austin. It might actually be colder here than at McMurdo, which is one of the reasons I don't really miss being there anymore. Because my mood is so affected by climate, I have been borderline ecstatic in this cold & cloudy season. Finally out of the heat & sun, my soul smiles and my energy level escalates dramatically. I'll be finding out about a job (hopefully soon) that would take me out of the country again in March, but if I don't do that, I plan to immerse myself into the creative community here in Austin again. We have an amazing local theatre, endless art classes, and daily film listings that would make any film geek cry. I find myself so many times not doing anything because there are too many choices, but really missing the culture when I'm somewhere that doesn't have any. This photo was taken at my favorite dive restaurant, The Omelettry, one of the Old Austin Institutions. I've been eating here for 30 years, and apparently so have many of people seated at the counter, as they seem to be superglued to their stools, grey beards skimming the tops of their heuvos rancheros. Nothing makes me happier than being in a place in Austin that is unchanged from when I arrived in '79 (though I was also born here), and except for the occasional Lexus (Lexii?) in the parking lot, the Omlettry is unchanged. Some of my more foodie friends berate me for eating at these places because the food is not "good." It's eggs & bacon for crying out loud - how good does it have to be? I'll take an atmosphere I like with marginal food over great food in a "hot" restaurant any day. I'm from the old "die yuppie scum" school (that sweet motto was spray painted on the sides of the punk clubs we patronized) & am aware that a part of that sensibility still lives in me, though it is a dated notion. I am too old for it & should probably eradicate it from my cadre of character defects, but I still get some pleasure from it, as Austin is full of yuppies now and it's getting harder & harder to dodge them. They keep finding our funky battered haunts, run off the punks & semi-hobos, and glitz up the place with neon & liquor infused coffee drinks. Effin gag me. I didn't know this posting was going to turn into a  yuppie rant so I'll have to eventually get back on track. Apologies to any yuppies reading this - though I already know none are, and before I go all Denis Leary on you, I have to get back to the photo. For some reason I had my camera in the restaurant the morning I took this. While I was proudly boasting like I always do to the 18 year old waitron that I've been coming here for 30 years (apparently, I'm going to be one of those obnoxious old people) I noticed a photo on the fridge (conveniently located in the dining area) that is a still from a documentary about the relationship between Werner Herzog & Klaus Kinski. I don't know if this particular still is from "My Best Fiend" or "Burden Of Dreams," but I had to snap the photo as I really admired the text someone had put with it - it says "I need more coffee!" while Kinski strangles Herzog. Oh so many connections! Long time readers will know I had the privilege of hanging out with Herzog in Antarctica 2 years ago. Long time friends know I went to film school  here & was wildly influenced by Herzog's work in the 1970s. Also, Tarantino's "Deathproof" had a really long scene in this restaurant, and obviously Q. knows of all these cool old "yuppie proof" haunts, as many of them feature in his films shot in Austin. I think the lowbrow exteriors keep them away. Or possibly the size of the parking spots.

Why am I writing about Austin in a blog which is supposed to be about Antarctica, world travel, and a big puffy cloud? Well, I'm not in Antarctica right now nor travelling, so I have to write about something. It has been very cold, and ominously overcast for many days (ie: feels sort of Antarctic, yet covered with clouds), so that is somewhat related. I have been seeing some incredibly awesome art and avant garde theatre lately, and just had a second interview for a job which may take me far far away for many months - and that always makes me sentimental for a place that I haven't even left yet. And this is the longest stint I've spent here in 4 years and just had to force myself to start liking it again. I have accepted that the yuppies won't go away, but there is always a place I can go where I'm guaranteed never to see any (and not just Terlingua and Moloka'i!) 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why I Went to Hawaii

Honolulu, Waikiki

Oah'u was a nice change of pace from Moloka'i, but I believe that small raggedy Island will forever hold a special place in my heart - if you crave a funky  non-tourist experience, got to Moloka'i. So I think I was expecting, once again upon exiting the airport in Honolulu, some Disneylandesque type beach experience for adults, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised. Honolulu is unpretentious, has the grittiest Chinatown I've visited in the US, and has the busy seaport action that makes me want to drop off resumes. There were lot of homeless people on Waikiki, cohabiting seemingly well with the buff and bronzed jogging set. I feel a comfort level being somewhere where homeless people can sleep in parks & on the beach (they can't where I'm from) and where gay people can feel comfortable walking down the street showing affection  (which they CAN where I'm from-yea!), so each day in Hawaii provided more reasons to see it as a really great destination (and a lot shorter plane ride than to New Zealand!). The U.S.S. Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor is powerful & touching, and hiking Diamond Head Crater at 6:00am was a great morning workout with stunning views. We stayed in an old hotel on the harbor which deserves it's own posting - I may have to start another blog called "Lodging David Lynch Would Love." Built in 1962, the Ilikai Hotel is the one that Jack London is on top of in the opening credit shots in Hawaii Five-O. The daily scene there could be the subject of a minor film-fest bound documentary, it was so full of resident characters and odd shops. But I know one thing for sure: if I ever buy a condo again (worst purchase of my life!), I'm buying one built in 1962. I never heard even a faint sound from the surrounding units (and after Moloka'i, I was a little shell shocked from shared-wall noise). So, Hawaii is just about perfect it seems. If it had a 60 degree season at all I would seriously consider moving there. We did take a day trip to Maui on Thanksgiving day, so we saw all five islands in 3 weeks. I love it when things I expect not to like, or feel ambivalent towards, end up being really awesome. Now I'm back in Texas, where the consolation is that is 50 degrees and rainy. Yee-ha!

Monday, December 01, 2008


This small, rural island is visited by less than 1% of all tourists who come to Hawaii (and most of those come for one day, to do the mule ride to the leper colony), but the solitude and lack of tourist attractions make it feel as if you are someplace utterly wild and lawless. These photos are from the famous mule ride down a very steep cliffside, filled with switchbacks and slippery rocks, that could only compare in pucker-factor to forking a 4000 lb. load to the power plant in early Winfly. I didn't know that mules will walk on the EDGE of a sheer cliff face, scaring the bejesus out of you, while "faking" tripping over rocks. All us city folk were sweating from places we didn't know we had sweatglands, and probably would have been in tears if it weren't for the stunning thing that we were doing: going down the side of a cliff to visit the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which aside from being possibly one of the most beautiful spots on earth, is a still functioning colony for people with Hansen's Disease (formerly known as leprosy). There are 24 patients still living in the community, and we were allowed to spend a couple of hours there visiting various buildings and photographing the postcard-like scenery (the residents stay indoors while the tour is on), before getting back on our mules. The mules always walk in the same order, and they had me on the first one, "Kumu," which means "teacher" in Hawaiian. The guides must intuitively know who to put in front, as I am as wobbly on a mule as any flat-city bred girl could be, leaving me shrieking as I held on for dear life to my small saddle knob, while the local guide laughed & told me to kick Kumu to go faster. The mule truly seems like he is going to go straight instead of turning, but most of the fun of it was how freakin' scary it is. The history of the colony and of Father Damien (recently canonized), who gave his life in selfless service to the patients, is quite inspiring. It was an unusual tour as several emotional landscapes are traversed: the giddy mule ride, the heart wrenching facts that were presented to us about the suffering at the colony, the dread of getting back on the mules (it as a much shorter trip up). Moloka'i feels very different from the other islands. It really tests one's ability to be without "toys" (there was free wifi but I consider that essential, like coffee, and hey, don't even get me started on how great it is to be swilling coffee on the spot where it's grown!). Once again, I am suprised at how interesting a place Hawaii is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kaua'i, Hawaii

This is the island that South Pacific, Tropic Thunder, Jurassic Park (I), Blue Hawaii and all sorts of other movies were shot on. It is stunningly beautiful, very laid back, and full of roosters, hippies and yoga studios. The Waimea Canyon is filled with waterfalls and slippery difficult hikes and the Island is 85% undeveloped. I liked it much more than Big Island, as it was filled with many funky towns filled with artists shops. There appears to have been zero updating of any of the buildings since, oh, 1970 or so. Any development, or even a fresh coat of paint, is seen as threatening to the abiding feng shui of earthiness that permeates the place. I didn't have time to do the Movie Tour Bus as I would have liked, but the two days spent here were truly wonderful...oh, and it rained the whole time except for when I was on top of the canyon rim, taking these pictures...!

Big Island, Hawaii

I had negative preconceived notions about Hawaii, but they were all smashed as soon as I found that most of the it is wild and ruggedly beautiful. In the same day you can be boiling hot and freezing cold. I snorkled for the first time, which was incredibly fun.  We also went to a luau, and to the top of a volcano where it was 30F degrees and 14,500 ft above sea level. There were very few tourists and no kids anywhere! Driving around the Big Island is no fun, as the roads seem to be continually under construction, but the diversity of climates and interesting scenery was astounding. I was afraid it would be hot, but the clouds rolled in every afternoon to cool things off.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Should Probably Just Be a Diary Entry....

but what the heck - the idea that someone may read it makes me leave out all the whininess that my paper diaries tend to reflect. Plus, I can't read my handwriting anymore, and I type faster than I can write, therefore almost getting through the "stack" that is forming this early morning during a time of change: moving out of where I was living in Austin, homelessness, going to Hawaii right when the weather here is getting delicious & dark & stormy, no plan after I get back - true an utter limbo (47 years old, occupying a twin bed at my parents house, my car filled with all my worldly possesions, yet feeling so undeservedly blessed as the richness of my life is overwhelming), but a good limbo: not flailing about in a panic, but luxuriously mulling over my options, while ramping myself up with assaultive action for whatever path I decide upon: I could ski this winter! I have a potential possibility of going to Palmer Station, I could even do Improv in's all wide open at this point...

My last posting was so embarassingly bad that I thought I'd better wait til something happened before I blogged again, but "something" is always "happening" and James Michener wrote for 2 hours every morning no matter what, and I have found that doing that presents one with all sorts of surpises & opportunities. The words will start to find subject & meaning without too much help from me, and just banging away at it with no particular direction will eventually stir that inner pot of juiciness that keeps me alive & curious and questing for that pearl at any price that all creative endeavors provide one with. When I painted with oils, that connection was immediate, continual, and lasted  for the 20 years that I painted. Seeing a band I really connect with can do that too...I just saw TV on the Radio & they were incredible (though, the elements that made that show so incredible weren't just about seeing the band). And for the last 4 years, even though I haven't done it consistently, participating in the improv community in Austin has filled the creative need. I won't go into Antarctica & it's Impact on my life as I've written reams on that already. The fact that I did not go down this season has gotten my pot so stirred that I realize I am so completely free to choose what direction I want my life to go in, and I am really thinking about some very big and different things. I need to start making more money. I have only ever had really low paying jobs - I am practicing the mantra that it is possble for me to obtain a high paying job that does not require me to do some mind numbing desk work (criminies: most of my low paying jobs were about mind numbing desk work!). I am not sure I am ready for a non seasonal life, but I am thinking about it. The last 10 months I have lived in an 800 sq. ft house with an old friend and when I moved out 4 days ago the relief was overwhelming. Before the Ice, I had owned my own home for 15 years, not cohabited with anyone except for about 5 of those, and completely took it (the fact that I always has my own house) for granted until I started this seasonal life, sold my house, and started rooming with someone in the off season. A few months is ok, but 10 is too long unless I am in love with the person, and even that has a host of issues, but I having basically payed rent for 10 months & then actually gotten an 8-5 job back in this "real world" really showed me why I bolted to another lifestyle as soon as I found one - there is absolutely no reason for me to have a low paying dumbass job in a sucky climate like Texas when I have to pay rent, gas & everything else in a very expensive city. If I'd had my own place, I would just be covering my bills with my pay and have no extra $. On the Ice, I got used to my entire salary being "gravy" money - I would buy an occasional soda in the bar but that was only because I felt like spending a dollar so my wallet wouldn't freeze shut. What I learned from working stateside this time is that it's going to take a super fabulous job with a high income for me to stay here. There's just going to have to be something that is more shiny & thrilling to me than the Ice to make me not go back there. I never believed it was possible but I have decided to enlarge my thinking.  It's all about possibilites now, and I think that magical night November 4th has helped me see that.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Like a Sienfeld episode, I have nothing to blog about, so I am going to try and create something from nothing - my improv training should come in  handy here - and I've also decided to further challenge myself by entitling this posting first with a gorgeous word that was chosen simply because it looks and sounds magnificent, and not based at all on anything going on in my life that has its elements. But by the end of this tome-ette, hopefully I will have lynch pinned my thoughts somehow to justify the post title. Perhaps the musings will concatenate in a way to suggest the German "loanword" with the bittersweet definition.

This photo was taken with my laptop internal camera. I was eavesdropping on this incredibly surreal conversation going on behind me, and even though I've always wished I had those spy glasses where you can see stuff behind you that were always advertised in the back of Mad Magazine, I usually just turn around & check it out, not having any kind of pride about those sorts of things (and because of where I am, chances are I know these conversants). So I got the clever idea of launching the camera application & pointing it in their direction (my back still to them); but I soon lost interest in the conversation as the photo became more compelling to frame (ooh - industrial, B&W, and Eraserhead-ish!), made more interesting as I'm doing it backwards, while hovering the laptop in the air. I'm sure it was obvious to the other 40 people in here with the exact same laptop what I was doing. (This could have been "schadenfreude"-ish if I would have been delighting at some talk around someone's pain or misery, but a homeless guy was asking a gal for her knit cap (it is, after all, under 85 degress here now), and it was sweet because she gave it to him, and it was safety orange, and he didn't just want any hat, he had to have hers. He said he had been looking everywhere for one. I guess when you're homeless, "looking everywhere" doesn't mean the same thing to you or me - as you can't swing a dead cat around here without finding orange beanies for sale....)

ok, next:

In 4 days I will celebrate sixteen years of abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and two weeks after that I will turn 48 years old, an age that I never would have considered would rock this goodly - and aside from how old my neck looks, everything about late forties kicks butt. I am fit and healthy and it is Autumn: my season of uber happiness. The knowledge that my life is half over is making me dig deep into my psyche to discover those one or two dreams (knocking around in there with the 50 or so others) that I want to start working on before I relax into my extended dirt nap. I just saw the film "Outsourced," and once again India is on my radar as someplace I'd like to spend several months. I also want to live in the Gaeltacht in Ireland to learn Irish. There's also a rumbling (yet disturbing to me) desire to resurrect an anciently wanted "Cinderella Dream," though before those of you who know me start laughing I have spun it into a version I can handle: think the 60's movie version with Leslie Ann Warren, but with some "Sid & Nancy" touches, the costuming and the music, not the drugs. And a with a Gripfast 8 hole steel toe instead of a "slipper." Get the picture? Though, really, if I were deeply honest, I've already gotten to live that one out...(no schadenfreude here, unless the reader is laughing at my Cinderella Dream, which I've never confessed to having as it seems super uncool, in which case, I'm laughing with you, so I'm not miserable (unless I'm laughing just to keep from crying), so it doesn't count).

Still with me...?

At some point during this time of trying to come of with something worth blogging about I read a story about some American tourists who got on a bus in Africa, and at one the stops a man got on with a rooster, didn't have bus fare, & tried to pay his fare with the rooster. The Americans bought the rooster from the man so he could pay for his trip and when they all got off at the same stop the local man invited the tourists to his home for a meal. He was a widower who lived in a small hut with his two children, was very poor, but scratched together a meal for all of them. The Americans had a wonderful time, and when they left, gave the man back his rooster (I was wondering how the hell they were holding this thing the whole time! I wouldn't have any idea how to hold a rooster - I mean, was in a sack, or were they holding it upside down by it's (what I'm assuming are) scary feet?). I heard Johnny Lydon (one of my personal heroes) tell Conan O'Brien that the Garden of Eden wasn't in the bible or in the sky but in Africa instead. I have experienced first hand the incredible graciousness of people who have very little (usually in "emerging" countries)...I don't think they sit around and wonder what to do with their months of free time like I do. The reason I tell that story is because it struck me how I used to live my life thinking there was so little for me (which wasn't true) and I had to hold on tightly to whatever stuff, money, love (insert...anything) I thought I had - and this story shows a generosity without clinging - a way of living I aspire to, and have moved slightly closer to in my 16 years of not trying to change the way I feel with chemicals, which was based in a feeling of never having "enough" (which was false). But I don't have to travel around the world to see this sort of non-clinging to stuff - I just talked to the gal who gave her beanie to the homeless guy - she is homeless too. She is singing loudly while listening to music on her laptop. Homeless people with cell phones and laptops...what a crazy place.

I have run out of finger power & have not justified the title of the post so I'll just pull something from the random stack of topics in my brain, in a "use this word in a sentence" style: "the last time I experienced schadenfreude was was seeing the governor of Alaska being interviewed by Charles Gibson. I enjoyed her discomfort & awkwardness." I'm sure my karma is coming soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Limbo Beyond Limbo

A lot of people are surprised to find out I have a filmmaking degree. I think they thought I majored in Art or English or have some random Liberal Arts degree, but I was one of a handful of kids in the early 80's doing incredibly involved technical and creative 16mm film making at the University where I am currently a wage serf - which I now would not be able to get into as the requirements are so much stricter, and the film progam is recognized as top notch, as it was even then when there were just a handful of us doing it. The technical parts were incredibly arduous, but the chaos of shooting and editing and sound synching suited my nature. I partied so much in college that it is a miracle I got through, but we all seemed to be able to do that while we were making films, which I don't think is uncommon even today. I mention me having a film degree because about two months ago I was called for an extra role in the new HBO biopic about Temple Grandin, one of my personal heroes. I had stood in a cattle call line about two years ago for a big Hollywood pic being shot here, & the local film casting folks still had my picture. The reason they called me was because I was, at that time, 118 pounds, and they wanted skinny girls to fit into the 50's & 60's clothes for the period piece. I told them I weighed more than that now, sent them a pic of me in a bikini & never heard from them figuring that extra 5 pounds knocked me out of the running. Last night they finally called (around 8:30pm), and asked if I could show up the next day for a role that was bigger than an extra, so it would be a more intimate scene, where I would actually be seen in the movie for a few minutes. I thought this was cool & said I would do it, then told them I had a recent dye job-they didn't like this & told me I'd have to dye my hair before I came in, and have it set in "hot rollers," and bring pantyhose. I said I didn't have any hot rollers or pantyhose & thought it might be too late to go buy hair dye and they started asking me if I was really "stoked" or not for this role and that "they had held it special just for me" (???). I didn't ask why, then, they were calling me the night before for this special role just for me, because I would actually like to work on a film before I croak (actually, I am quite proud of the short film Will & I made in Antarctica for the film festival). The phone call became more bizarre as I talked to three different girls & they kept telling me their names and they were different than the first time they told me, and there was lots of noise in the background and that sounded like they were calling me from a crack house. I was still planning on going to the set when I reminded them that I had some small tattoos - and the girl on the phone asked where they were & I told her & she said "sorry we won't be able to use you..." & kept apologizing & acted liked I deceived them as she said she couldn't see them in my mostly naked picture. I said that's because they are not so obvious...anyway, I got off the phone relieved not to be dealing with these bozos..until I walked over to the shoot today (they happened to be shooting near campus and I know the secret signage that indicates where a big film is being shot) and saw all the teamsters & giant generators & millions of dollars of equipment & amount of bodies needed to pull of a production. I am a big fan of HBO made programming, so was curious about the incredible unprofessionalism of the talent people I'd dealt with on the phone. Anyway, it was a micro-drama that gave me something to write about. And because writing always opens the floodgates for stacking more topics...I was thinking about conversations I'd been having recently about the state of being in limbo versus being tethered and how that means different things to different people. I, right now, am in limbo beyond limbo. I am not on the Ice, have  a job I am quitting in two weeks, am moving out of my room in early November, going to Hawaii for 3 weeks, and after that have no idea what I'm going to do. I usually "tether" myself by some non-negotiable trips I have to do during the year: Taos in March & May, San Francisco in June...and usually the Ice for half the year - but the Ice, my singleminded focus of the last four year, is not happening this year. I am so free it's ridiculous. Getting this full time job has been great for my sanity & tethered me to life somewhat, but I am only enjoying it because I know it's going to end. There's always such a relief I feel when I know something is ending or changing. So starting in May I went from having a job at the South Pole for austral summer, to not having one, to working the ski season in Jackson Hole, to not doing that, and then asking for a job at South Pole for winter, and being immediately rejected (!). The problem I'm having now is not the fear of being in utter limbo, it's not knowing what I want to do. I worked so hard to get myself into this position of not being chained to a job, city or I should just enjoy the fact that I'm in this luxury position instead of worrying about it. Sometimes I wonder if I'm squandering my creative energies, but it takes so much energy to manage this lovingly chosen limbo, that maybe that is the creative act. And nothing makes me more certain than I am living the right life for me than working at UT again, where I'm surrounded by people who don't have the choice to quit & run off like I do. It is so easy for me to see tethers as chains...

the next day...

In the airconditioned comfort of my favorite new coffee hangout in Austin, Epoch. What makes a local coffee shop great? Old blown out comfy couches, super groovy new down-tempo music played at a volume where you can still type & read, and a band of locals you eventually form a "tribe" with. This one also has excellent pizza. It's mid October & still in the 90'sF here in Central Texas, but I have made peace with my heat hating side as the mornings & evening are blissfully nice. I got an e-mail from a friend at McMurdo this morning....I worked with her in the Heavy Shop three seasons ago and though I have accepted I gave up my job on Ice this season, I was not prepared to be stricken like I was when I saw the photos of her in one of the big red South Pole Traverse tractors. My heart seized up, as if something very very important to me was no longer mine - tears streamed from my eyes as I scrolled down to the pics of the pristine mountains across from the butt-ugly but lovable station. For a variety of reasons I decided to not go back to the Ice this season, and despite my grieving not being there, I have found reasons to appreciate being stateside. But I was not prepared for how deeply the Ice is woven into my blood, body & cells: any opportunity to talk about it sparkles me. No matter how much I stand by my decision that is ok for me to take a season off, there is a hole in my soul in the shape of my friends & the lifestyle of Mactown. 

But while I sit here torturing myself, the world is unfolding around me in subtle & interesting ways...I get to be here for this incredibly bizarre & epic presidential election. I get to experience a temperature that is somewhere comfortably between 100F & not -40F (the extremes I've been in the last 4 years). I get to have deep & intimate conversations with wonderful people. I get to see tableaux like the one pictured, that someone lovingly created on the bar at Epoch, and reminds me that I could never live anywhere that did not have these sorts of fringe places peopled by fringe characters. I am so comfortable with them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Faced with the prospect of no trip on the horizon until November (Hawaii!), and two more months of potential triple digit temps here in central Texas, I did the most logical thing any adventurous, cold-air loving soul would do: got a temporary job spending most the day walking around outside at a place I worked at for 14 years in  my pre-Antarctic life. I was going to go to Ireland for a few weeks, or drive to northern New Mexico again, but I was gripped by my ancient, ingrained work ethic persona (even though I was born in Austin and dress like one, I am not a "slacker" in my soul!) & decided I needed to be busy & spend the day doing something I'm being paid to do instead of trying to dream up ways of passing the days. I also wanted a sort of work solidarity feeling with my peeps on the Ice, as it was "time" for me to go back to work. So I got a temp job at the University of Texas, (which I also graduated from 25 years ago) walking around tracking down professors and grad students to tag newly purchased inventory. I have tagged mostly brand new computers, some strange lab equipment that apparently does something with live frogs that I probably don't want to know about. I have a giant binder of millions of dollars of stuff purchased for UT Athletics so I'll be spending lots of time at the stadium tagging everything from racing sculls to batting cages. An immense, state university is a fascinating place to work - I could never work at an office park or in some environment where you don't have a rich environment to balance out the soulless work going on in the cubicles. When I first took this job I was angry at myself and wondering if I did the right thing, as "going back to UT" (as we've always referred to it) turned the knife that was in my heart about not being on the Ice this season. I felt like a puppet that someone else was pulling its strings - why am I staying in this oven city for two more months working 8-5, missing yoga, travel & sleeping in, doing this grueling work? After 3 days of work I know why: because life is more interesting when it surprises you & doesn't follow your own script (who was it that wanted a job?). Something in me knew this was the right thing to do for now even though it's not "exciting!" or in a "foreign locale!" After 3 days of hard work I am not complaining  ceaselessly like I was about the weather - I don't have time to navel gaze as I'm so busy organizing how I'm going to do my day. I interact with people so much that a huge contact void is being filled. I thought I knew what I wanted but like I heard Bob Dylan say "getting what you want is just getting what you want." And he also said something about the state of being happy was not as interesting as other states one might be in. I get that. And some good people I hang with have a great saying: you may not get what you want but you always get what you need. Having a regular job dials down my neurosis to a very low hum, whereas endless hours of free time will have me in a mental tailspin derived from self absorption. I have experimented with this for years: quitting jobs I hated & trying time after time to "self-structure" so I can make art, but it never works. I need structure. And I need external structure, preferably by a large institution. I've had jobs with small employers and it always made me nervous - I like the womb like feeling of the massive employer (UT has 25,000 staff members). So, like an adult, I have made peace with my decision, and tomorrow will happily run around all day applying little silver stickers on laptops, frog cleaners and centrifuges...because right now, I need to be identified with the tribe of the "employed." My identity was so tied up with being "that chick who works in Antarctica," that I've been lost for a few months knowing I wasn't going back. But I still am that chick, because I will go back, just not for now....

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It Began with Bruce

Thirty three years ago I was riding home from high school with a friend & her brother in a car, which was significant for me as I almost always rode the school bus, and was envious of people who didn't have to ride it. I remember what I was wearing, that I was sitting in the center of the back seat (I don't remember who the other two riders were), and that my friend's brother turned up the radio volume knob and said "hey listen to this new song, it's really cool," in his understated math-geek style. I then heard something that exploded in my soul and electrified every nerve in my being. I felt what all the gurus & mystics talk about when they describe a spiritual experience in regards to there being no awareness of time, space or separation of bodies. I felt new blood & life rushing into me & a confidence that my life was going to be greater, wilder and more adventurous than my 14 year old self could possibly imagine at that point. I had a fleeting glimpse that the universe was going to unfold for me in outrageously abundant ways and I'd better hold on  for the ride. This feeling can still overcome me with the opening bars of certain songs, but it began with this one (see t-shirt in photo). I saw Bruce for the first time in 1980 at the former Summit in Houston on "The River" tour. I still have the $8 ticket stub (it was also the only time *I think* he played "Drive All Night," my all time number one Bruce anthem tune). I was deeply entrenched in the punk rock scene in Austin at the time, but would always return to Bruce in the wee hours - and all my non-Bruce friends would roll their eyes, like all non-Bruce people have always done. "I don't get it" they say. Or "all his songs sound the same." I made a few converts, usually by talking them into seeing a live show, or by forcing them to participate in late night "lock-ins" where I would play his albums over and over. There is nothing so beautiful as seeing an ambivalent Bruce person transformed after a show. After that 1980 show, which was nothing short of transcendental: the parting of the audience as he strolled into the center of the hushed bodies, as if the Pope himself were coming through - I didn't see a show for a while. I sort of lost my enthusiasm after "Born in the USA" came out (that embarassing dance training!). I lived in New York City when that tour started in 1984, knew a live show would be a heartstopper, stood in line all day & bought 10 tickets, went to Ireland and fell in love, ditched my return plane ticket & didn't get back in time to see the show in Jersey (I still haven't seen Bruce in Jersey, man!). I felt really bad as some of those tickets belonged to other people who didn't get to see the show either. I saw a couple of solo acoustic shows in the '90s but didn't get that fire back until the E Street band reunited in 2000. After that first Texas show in Dallas I wasn't sure I would be able to return to "normal" life again - I have never seen anyone give that much. I don't know what my expectations were but not that a middle aged man would come out as blisteringly raw, powerful and inspiring like he did in the '70s. I went on to see the Austin & Houston shows, and then in 2002 tour did the "GA line" (which is an epic journey in itself) & stood leaning on the stage as he held my hand for half a song while starting into my friend's eyes. My hearing was ruined from that show, but being that close to Bruce & Li'l Steven was worth the fascinating and surreal process known as the "GA line." (for short: spending four days of 24/7 ritual to be one of those people who are all standing near the stage). This past April, I saw Bruce in his most recent tour in Houston. As usual, I held my breath in the beginning knowing I was in for a ride - and this show was epic among shows. I was trying to pin the right words on it & finally read them in one of the reviews of the show: "a brain meltingly good show." That's exactly what happened: my brain melted, and like I do after every show, I race home & get online & plot my life path to go to every show possible & then don't do it. The one show that looked really good was his last one - at something called "Harleyfest" in the Midwest, but I didn't bother with trying to get tickets as they were really expensive and I couldn't get my Bruce-pal Kate to go with me.

So last Saturday I'm riding back from the shores of Green Bay (where this photo was taken) to Chicago. En route we encounter thousands of Harleys near Milwaukee and then get stuck in a massive traffic jam. My friend said this was a big annual music festival that is really prestigious & has great acts. Being from Austin I usually take these comments with a grain of salt - and it was blazingly hot out so I was not tempted as I would otherwise be to follow the rumbling bikers into town. I found out a few days later that Bruce had played his last & longest show of this tour that very night in Milwaukee at that music show known as "Harleyfest." I kicked myself for a little while for not knowing that I was just blocks from the Boss, but regrets don't do me a lick of good.

A good friend told me I suffer from a deep case of "the grass is greener" syndrome. I've been thinking about this a lot as it is playing itself out like a giant Technicolor psychodrama in the part of my brain that makes decisions. I had to make a very difficult choice this year: whether to go back to the Ice, or spend the ski season in Jackson Hole with Will. The first time I went to Antarctica was exactly like that moment in that car 33 years ago: like waking up from a dull tired dream into a new and exciting world, full of romance and creativity and living on the razor's edge. I did have a job on Ice this upcoming season, and the whole time I knew I could go, I felt tormented about what I would miss out on by not going to JH. When I finally said no to the job and yes to Will, I mourned not going back to the Ice and am torturing myself over what I am missing out on at McMurdo! I watched me put myself through this exhausting and self-defeating ritual, and with what tiny bit of middle aged wisdom I have finally had to just tell myself that there is NO wrong decision, and that whatever I choose will be good no matter how it pans out. And what I finally realized was giving me so much heartache about this decision was that I was having to decide between two things I really wanted - whereas I'm usually trying to escape some yucky situation by replacing it with something that seems better, but that usually ends up yucky too. So to be in a situation where all the choices are good? Wow - now that's something new -I realize the enviable situation I am apparently in. The best part about the decision I made was that I'm doing something different, something that involves a lot of unknown and risk taking, something that will present new challenges, yet living someplace where I know I'll like the weather! 

What I learned from Bruce is to keep asking myself  "is anybody really alive in there?" And to follow the path that feels most alive. And sometimes, life is so abundantly alive, you have to choose one path over the other...a condition I like to refer to as "luxury problems."

"Talk about a dream...try to make it real...."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Door County, WI

It's been a while since I've written, but I've been away from wifi & cell service for the past two weeks. I'm staying in an enormous old house in Door County, WI (top of the peninsula), specifically in Egg Harbor. The house is right on Green Bay, which is great for swimming, sunsets, and goose watching. I'm with my oldest & dearest friend, her family (which includes two great kids) and a variety of friends & family members who drift in & out for various lengths of stays. The summer heat is not brutal up here, so it is livable, and my favorite town here, Sturgeon Bay, has very affordable housing. These are my favorite photos so far (taken a few steps from the house), as they come at my favorite time of day: when the sun starts to set and I heave a hugh sigh of relief....thank goodness summer is almost over!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Made From Corn

I was just about to toss this plastic cup last night when I decided to read what was written on it. I would love to tour the plant that makes corn into plastic cups. I don't know if you can read the back but it says "fully compostable." Interestingly enough, I just read an article in "The Sun" magazine today about a 90 year old Nicaraguan woman who made corn tortillas from 4am to midnight for the Sandinistas-to give them energy to fight the Contras; Esperanza says "corn is the strength that we subsist on...a person cannot work, cannot think, cannot exist without our corn." This stirs up all kinds of thoughts, like how much Reagan was hated on my college campus during the Nicaraguan conflict, heated talk over beer & cigarettes about the SNLF, and the idea of taking a raw material & turning it into something unexpected. It's interesting that this cup looks exactly like plastic, like did they have to take the "cornness" out of it so it wouldn't freak people out (because it's more reassuring to drink out of petroleum by-products), or does processed corn look like plastic anyway. Did this cup use 20 times the resources to make as a plastic one? Or, even more intriguing, did some Banksy influenced guerilla artist just print this on there, making an urban hipster hoax, to give people like me something to blog about...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Go See "Man On Wire"

The Frenchman profiled in this documentary lives the Helen Keller quote: "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Even More Remote

This place I went to in Way West Texas isn't even on the map. The road to it is marked by a short black line that turns into a long grey line. From now on I will always know what the "grey" line on a map means: do not drive a low-rider Ford Taurus on this road! For 2 hours I twisted through the mountains on an unpaved & obviously rarely traveled "road." Thank goodness the scenery was jaw-dropping, otherwise I would have had only my abject terror to focus on. I drove across giant boulders praying my tires wouldn't get punctured. One section of the road was 90 degree drops into dry creek beds while in my panic I thought I heard the faint strains of the deliverance theme song, saw some Hills Have Eyes types darting my periphery, & the standard cliche: circling vultures. Fergus was bouncing so much in his seat I had to strap him in. I mentally inventoried my water supply (1/2 a hot bottle & a rapidly emptying dog dish), wondered if I had a flashlight, and started to remember than the reason I had never come out here was that it required a "high clearance" vehicle. I only remember being this scared one other time: driving on another "grey" road about 10 years ago looking for a scenic route to Jerome AZ. I cried like a baby on that trip, but on this one I just focused on breathing and going 2 miles per hour. When I finally saw the sign for my destination I was so releived, but incensed enough to let the owners know they need to warn folks like me on their website. This is a part of Texas that makes comfortable regular, paved road West Texas seem soft & easy. This is hardscrabble "No Country For Old Men" country. The worker at the Springs said "I've never heard of a Taurus making it through Pinto Canyon." I thought he was perhaps new to the area, but later found out he was a native Terlinguan (wiki it-makes Luckenbach look like the Taj Mahal). Yikes. Now that my driving adventure was over, I could focus on the resort: small, funky, relaxing. Fergus running wild with packs of hounds, nude toddlers everywhere, and, unfortunately, their skidmarked tiny undies. After a quick once over of the pools & grounds, I power napped (my energy sapped by my death defying canyon adventure!), but was harshly awoken by one of my two most hated sounds: lawn equipment! I swear, as much as I hate California, I would move there in an instant if I could afford to live in the town (I believe it is Carmel) the has outlawed all motorized/gas powered lawn equipment. I almost had to laugh though, that at his remotest of remote places were one would expect nothing but quiet, I was subjected to an obsessive maintenance guy with his weedeater that you could tell he was in love with. His other tool of the trade was a medieval looking machete, so I'm sure the weedeater was a huge energy saver to him. One of the naked toddlers was fond of screaming loudly for no apparent reason, but hey, we were one big happy family by nightfall, all swapping stories in the communal kitchen, bonding over the unspoken fact that it is no small feat to get out to a place like this. There was one other lady travelling by herself, and I'm always pleased to see this as we are a small, but significant tribe. I have become that sort of woman I always secretly hoped I would be: middle aged, fit, dressed sloppily but not un-hip; not asexual, but definitley not enticing, and with a wee precious dog that shows a commitment to having a lovable companion to share the adventure with. The only other male guest there was named Fergus too. Wow. Two Irish-named mammals at Chinati Hot Springs on the same day. And he was all the way from England. The next morning my city persona took over & I bolted from the Springs in hope of good black coffee at the town at the bottom of the road. After a wrong turn (into a dry creek bed), I backtracked & finally made it to the town of Ruidoso - population "zero" it would appear. There were no buildings, certainly no coffee shops, and I even forgot about the coffee when I saw the giant wild boars racing along the road with me - wow again. I realized I was in a part of the country that has more animals than people. Wild burros & horses were spotted too, and the burros came up the the car & were very freindly. (If these are donkeys, forgive me, I don't know the difference).  There was something surreal about the road from Ruidoso to Presidio: it bordered Mexico & you could see the canyons and all sorts of unidentifiable...lodging was all I could figure it must've been. Really put things in perspective for me. I live in my self-abosorbed, luxury problem filled life here the coddling bubble of city life, and a 10 hour or so drive to the deserts of my own state show me a lifestyle that I know nothing about - I wont try & guess what sort of living they eke out, but I admired them for putting togehter a home base, especially the ones out of scavenged materials. I once read a New Yorker article about the floating slum of Lagos Nigeria where everything is made of scavenged metal. I saw that today on highway 170, and it was nice to see that a lot of homey touches went into it. I feel that I am city girl in my soul, but there is something about ultra remote locations with nothing to do but visit with people that will have me put everything else on hold. When there are no places to go or things to do, people sit around and talk - about 10 strangers who are no longer strangers by the end of the evening.  Can't believe I waited this long to come out here. Next time I'll bring Will.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

West Texas

It may look like Tucumcari, but West Texas has a whole different vibe. These photos were taken in Alpine, Marfa, and Fort Davis Texas, the gateway to the Big Bend Park. I've been coming out here since '92 and consider this my "runaway" place (or "run to" depending on what's going on in my life). It's very isolated and a long, long drive from a big city. There is no Wal Mart and almost every business is locally owned. About 10 years ago I secured a contract on a house in Alpine as I was convinced I was going to move here. Now that house has tripled in price and it is still only about $120K. I have to resist looking at real estate out here because it IS so affordable, but life in this small a town I'm not sure I could swing. Alpine is the biggest of the cities (pop. ~5000), where I stay at a 1940's lodge with my dog (bottom photo). Fort Davis is probably the prettiest of the towns as it has the McDonald Observatory nearby & lots of interesting mountains & rocks. The "Sleeping Lion" rock (also pictured) was something I wanted to climb, but when I drove up to it there was a fence around it. Marfa is the most interesting of the towns - with a population of just about 2000, it has become a swanky artists' mecca - and not your dreadlocked slacker coffee shop artist, but big name NYC artists with loads of cash fixing up the derelict buildings and filling them with cutting edge art, which juxtaposes sharply with the low income local adobe dwelling population. The best part of this trip this time is that it has rained a lot - at 85 degrees F it is twenty degrees cooler here than in Austin. 85 is still way too hot for me, but that's as good as it gets for a seven hour drive. There is no traffic. There is no noise. The sky is so beautiful that I got tears in my eyes watching the violent thunderheads rolling west last night. The relief I felt getting out of Austin was overwhelming. I had gone through a couple of weeks of "negotiating" my salary with the Antarctic folks which left me feeling empty (they said "no" but I keep my integrity), so I knew I'd be recharged out here. I miss my daily yoga class, but I brought a dvd & am trying to do it in my tiny room without knocking a decoration off the wall. I also recently finished a climbing class in a bouldering gym in Austin, and I'm itching to get back to climbing, and to try it outdoors. I know this post is uninspired so I'll keep it short. This blather is just padding for the photo of the grain elevator with the dark cloud above it, which I drove the wrong way down a one way street to get a shot of before the sun came back out. Actually, the other Marfa photo (with the water tower) has a dark sky as well. As far as my personal photographic ambitions, I live for this sort of shot. When I was taking photojournalism in 1980 in college, I raced out on one of the 10 cloudy days I have witnessed in my life, and did about half my assignments. Even before the professor told us, I knew the power, beauty and color saturation of a sunless photo. I guess my second favorite type of photo is crumbling buildings, so I got photo goodness on this day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gaaak! I found out I accidentally removed my stat counter from my blog - I just thought no one had looked at in in a month, which would be unusual, as someone inevitably at least happens upon it by accident through a random Google search (an interesting one: "mohawk, pictures, smooth"). I've had this blog for two years before I installed the counter & now I don't know how I survived without it (remember before they invented caller ID: horrors!). I am not currently on a retreat or vacation of any kind so I don't know if I can blog about my life in Austin and still sound like a dynamic and interesting person. Let's see, I drink coffee for a couple of hours in the morning while surfing the net and inquiring with various travel companies if they have an opening on their tour of Labrador/Arctic Circle/Greenland (plotting my escape from the sticky Texas heat), and then decide I don't want to spend the 5-10K. I take my dog for a walk, though it's a short one as it's already boiling hot. I go to yoga, which makes me feel terrific, then hone my rock climbing skills at the Rock Gym I just started taking classes at. Like the skiing, it is very challenging & lots of fun. I ride my scooter as my primary form of transportation as it gets 100 mpg, and I have notice that this is turning into a scooter town. 4 years ago I didn't see too many scoots, now you can hear us beeping thru the night in moped solidarity. Another thing about nightfall in Austin - it is glorious. I fall in  love with the city again. It is the one time I feel content to be outside. Riding after 9:00pm when it falls just under 90F degrees with a slight cool breeze is joyful. But since I've owned the scooter I've always felt really sad when I have to leave Fergus at home as he loves going to coffee shops with me but I never want to take my car. I've investigated different ways of trying to transport him on he scooter in the past but always decided I would be too nervous with my "precious cargo" if I dropped the bike. Well, for some reason a few days ago I just marched into PetCo  & bought one of those front baby-holder type things & brought it home & when I stuffed him in it & walked out to get on the scooter for the first time he acted like "why did you wait so long?" So now we have been going on evening jaunts & he loves it (look closely at the blurry photo & you can see his wee fuzzy head). The looks I get from people in cars & one the streets is hilarious (I'm hoping it's not a "that poor woman is using a dog as a baby-substitute" look - but no, this is Austin, where you hardly ever see a white person with a baby). I always complain about my life when I'm at "home" but it reads like it seems like it should be really great. I guess it's as great as it can be for being in such a bad climate. I recently read in an Eckhart Tolle book that there is a type of person who cannot be happy unless they are travelling to unfamiliar places. I must be one of them. I can be "happy," doing my routine here, but not ecstatically living out the dictates of my daimon. I don't feel fully alive until I see that road stretched out before me into the unknown (or have hit that "make purchase" button on the airline website!).

I have a decision to make & it will be difficult: I've been offered a job at the South Pole that sounds really fun, but if I take it I won't see Will for 4 more months (and seeing him will be fun too!). How do you decide between love

Friday, July 11, 2008

Frisco, Fog, and even more Fun

I went to San Francisco to do the Master Class version of the painting workshop I've been doing for years. This retreat is different from the one in Toas, as it is for seasoned process painters so the teacher pushes us to greater depths of creativity. But the best part is that I get to be in this awesome city, which I'd move to in heartbeat if I was rich. The photo from Chinatown was taken halfway through the workshop, on our 1/2 day off. We were just giddy from the process & the over-the-top-ness of Chinatown was the perfect place to spend the afternoon. I am lucky enough to have met my fabulous friend Gwinn at a workshop in Taos in 2003, and her mom has a house in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in SF (worth moving there for Farley's alone! World's coolest coffee shop). So I get to stay in one of my favorite American cities (and the most expensive) for free. Gwinn's nephew stayed with us for most the week and I was forewarned that I would have to play Monopoly every night until my eyes burned with fatigue. I said I didn't know how to play & hid in my room pretending to be "writing," so I wouldn't have to get my ass kicked by a 10 year old at a board game. Well, I was ordered to play by Gwinn's mom as she was cooking dinner & someone had to take her place - and lo & behold - my super competitive, greedy persona kicked in and I discovered I loved playing Monopoly with a kid. The last time I had played I was probably 10 also, and my dad, a gifted businessman, left my sister & I  homeless & penniless within the first hour - so my memories of Monopoly was that it was very for skilled businesspeople only. But everyday I bolted from the painting class to rush home so could play with this darling boy. Its was one of the gorgeous treats from the universe that I could have never asked for. 
The other photo is the 2nd one I have in my Entire Photo Collection that features actual real live fog! My other fog photo was taken last year in the Highlands of Scotland, with Will (my darling boyfriend currently residing at the South Pole), and that fog was hard to find, as my frenemy Mr. Sun followed me Everywhere else in Supposedly Cloudy Countries. Anyway, I promised not to rant anymore about the sun (currently 100 degrees in Austin Tx :-)), so aside from the fact that I can wear a sweatshirt in June, SF has too many good qualities to name - but some of those are: Walkable! I lost 5 pounds just walking everywhere. Adults! There's grown ups everywhere, hardly any kids or strollers, and no giant waddling people like you'd see, say, on the Wisconsin peninsula (it's be tough to walk these streets if you weren't fit). Gorgeous architecture, friendly people, Alcatraz and other cool touristy stuff, and Farley's: a coffeeshop I could live in.