Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homeward Bound

I've been in McMurdo a little over two weeks and have been so busy at work, that even without housemouse and GASH (extra work at Palmer) I feel like I have less free time. I had No Idea how spoiled I was having wifi in my room at Palmer, and the slowness of the internets here is incredible. I have tried on several different days to upload pictures to this blog & do a posting, but I have finally given up & have decided to just blog without photos. I have posted nice photos on my facebook page, so if anyone who reads this want to see those photos feel free to "friend" me.

I'm so much more comfortable and relaxed here...I have very sweet memories of my time at Palmer & the things that were good there were Very Good...but here I feel like I'm at home. I get enough walking in in a day that I feel like I don't have to work out, and there is always places to pop over into if I want some company. And on the nights my roomie goes to work, I have a blissful 4 hours of reading solidtude in my room. I'm totally loving my kindle reader, and continue to read voraciously on it.

Working at the Heavy Shop is fun and fast paced. This is the first time I've returned to a warehouse I've previously worked at and it's been enough years that it feels fresh again. There are the familiar faces and many new mechanics as well. The parts counter where I work has a line at it all day, and I don't remember it being this busy when I worked here 4 years ago. Most days I do a repetitive walk from the counter to the warehouse behind the building, back and forth so many times that I'm surprised there isn't a rut carved into it. I finally got my pickle (M4K forklift) training, and driving Elvis again is a joy. I'd forgotten how fricken' hard it was to see out of the front of this machine, but compared to the Skytrak I drove at Palmer (where you can easily see the forks), this is much more fun in general to operate because it articulates.

Now that I've been here two weeks and my routine is deeply entrenched, I need to ponder my future in Antarctica. I am in my 6th season on Ice and and on the fence about whether I'm going to be a "lifer" or not. This lifestyle is so amazing but it is also so amazingly weird: I forced myself to go out last night to hear live bands when all I wanted to do was lie in my cave & read books. I ended up having a really great time and staying up late, but it always feels like I'm a freshman in college when I go out here. The people you see every day are liquored up and hanging on each other - and as a sober person it can be a very entertaining show to watch. I am so safe without alcohol! I cannot imagine getting drunk here on Saturday nights in a town this small. By midnight the clubs look like pens of animals getting ready to or hoping to rut. I get to walk out the door utterly clearheaded and crawl into my cozy walled off bed and read until late as I don't have to get up early on Sunday. At Sunday brunch you can see the hangovers & excited energy of those that had a wild night..and I get to enjoy the stories I hear from these big party nights.

I picked up my 17 year sobriety chip here when I first got here and it seems like just yesterday I was getting a one year chip. When I first quit drinking I never intended for sobriety to become a way of life...I was just miserable and had tried everything else so I was going to go on the wagon for a while. Now most of my dreams have come true, and some I hadn't even known were waiting for me have come true also. In the midst of some of the bitterness and crankiness I can get into in this place (the Ice), it is still an incredible place for life to press upon me in ways that I don't experience off Ice: whatever stored up anger or resentments I have will force me to deal with them. I will have strong reactions and will have to take care of them myself quickly because "perception" is "reality" down here & I want to be perceived well. I don't drink or get into trouble, but I can be mouthy and squawk about the system and when I hear myself being this way I make an effort to reign it in the next day. In short, I have to be a grownup here (but in other ways, you never have to grow up here!).

There's nothing new here. No epiphanies or see-God-now experiences to gush on about. Coming back to McMurdo after a year off was like putting on comfortable old slippers & settling into an easy chair. When I first got here so many people said "welcome home," and that is what it feels like: a sort of tribal home for oddballs, misfits,  and people like me who are both and especially like not having to feed or house myself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Voyage North

These photos are from the 8 day voyage from Palmer Station to Chile. As far as redeployments go, this one was spectacular - an 8 day paid cruise to and from Antarctica. I can get so caught up in the negatives while on station that I am sometimes blinded by the big picture of the really cool stuff I get to do with this lifestyle. I hear a lot of kvetching (and do a fair amount myself) from people about various things about working on the Ice, but ultimately, for me, this was, and continues to be a dream come true. Distance and time soften the prickly aspects of the season, so that what remains are memories of what is good working on station. And the power of images to conjur memory and feeling are astounding. I know things change and perhaps someday it will be time for me to trade this lifestyle for something different - but Antarctica is still so compellingly wonderful for me: I am truly excited to be going back to McMurdo to a job I've held in the past. I'm looking so forward to being in New Zealand again, the CDC & C-17 ritual, and seeing dozens of friends.  I am also looking forward to the structure and routines. I see that I need to learn how to treasure this sort of non-travelling time off. When I am on Ice in the middle of some horrible tasking, this long stretch of free time is all I think about, so I just need to learn how to relax and enjoy it!

I left station 3 weeks ago and have tried to settle into a transitional routine here in Austin but am finding that filling my days with activities and self structuring are ridiculously stressful. With hundreds of options available to choose from, I end up feeling overwhelmed after culling down to a couple of time fillers, followed by frustration regarding logistics (traffic), then chucking it all to spend the time simply walking around the local parks with my dog. One of the problems is that I feel like I have to pack my day with excitement as I only have two weeks before going back to the Ice, that I have to Blaze New Trails every moment.

I compulsively read every Anita Brooker novel years back, and even though I find her writing exquisite, her inert characters served as a warning to me as the kind of person I did not want to be: a healthy, moneyed woman with loads of free time on her hands spending endless stretches of days wandering around her large and lonely flat, incapable of goals or action. I started reading Brookner when I felt trapped in my life, and stopped reading her when my life became exciting (travel, adventure, seasonal work!) I have always been fascinated by homebody-ism, but incapable of it myself. I get a lot of creative stuff done when I have a regular home, but I always feel oppressed by property ownership and yearn to be free. I have the freedom now, and big dreams require big sacrifices. I could go on...but I'll stop now and go out and enjoy the rare rainy day here in Austin.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Precious Half Winter

This season was so different than my previous ones, and so unexpectedly challenging in such surprising and difficult ways, that I was curious when I started instantly missing Palmer as the boat pulled away (aside from the obvious teary goodbye with Will.) The place was beautiful, the food was extraordinary and all my coworkers were good people doing a good job. But I felt so oppressed by the smallness of the population that I thought I would pop with relief when I entered into wider expanses of both terrain and number of bodies. So I left with some trepidation: I was in a very coddled & protected world. I was treated well uniformly by everyone. My job was busy & ultimately, satisfying. Getting on the boat became the beginning of Unstructured Free Time - something I'm trying to develop a better working relationship with. Eight days tossing & turning on the boat, watching movies, eating & sleeping (while still on the payroll) flew by. One heavenly night at the old hotel in the square of Punta Arenas felt like my reward for the season. Twenty four hours of sleepless airplane rides later I wonder how the season seemed to be over in the blink of an eye, when some of the days seemed to drag on forever. I read so many memoirs, saw so many movies, ate so many exquisite desserts - that was part of the deal. I now completely understand how people get stuck in this's so easy to keep doing. So easy, yet hard too. I met some amazing people at Palmer and on the Gould. Even though there were times when I thought my Antarctic experience was in "the red" this time, I know that I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to go to Palmer. I will never forget these past four months. Oh, and there's a story about the second photo with me & Jon about to swing cans. After we were done with this final part of pier ops I went inside where some people had been watching us. One of my coworkers who has an indoor job said "Marsha that looks really horrible..what you were doing out there..." and I just smiled real big & said THIS is why I work in do stuff like this! To stand outside in storms doing stuff I never imagined I'd be doing.

Palmer Station, I'm not sure I like you, but I love you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In a month I won't have anyone to cook for me anymore

The first picture is of me tubing down the glacier behind the station. It's a good size bunny hill - long & gentle til you get near the bottom, where jagged rocks await you. As someone who grew up in a climate on par with Qatar, success for me will be represented by pictures of winter. As a child I was obsessed with a magazine ad of the Marlboro man riding a horse through an austerely silent and snowy forest with big flakes falling around him. I hung this picture on my wall and even asked my mom for the 50 cents to order the poster (this was in the 60's when you could mail two quarters in an envelope & get something cool mailed back to you). I was a 5th generation Texas who fantasized about snow because it was something I was going to have to travel to find. It was mysterious & desirable to me and I don't know why. Growing up near a sketchy coastal beach that I was rarely tempted to visit, I was amazed that that is all my friends in high school wanted to do once they obtained cars. Bloated bodies in the sun, drunk sunburnt rednecks, kids stabbing sticks into dead jellyfishes, soiled dialpers carelessly tossed into the wet sand, not to mention the lack of intellectual stimulation - it just wasn't my scene. I've always been fascinated with the almost unanimous opinion that a tropical landscape with white sandy beaches & 80 degree weather is something not only desirable but worth paying lots of money to get near. It just seems like a failure of imagination. Even here, where I am "wintering", the days are growing longer & the more daylight we have the more uncomfortable I am with it - I loved only have an hour or two of light a day. There was something almost holy and ecstatic about sitting at a desk at work during pitch darkness. It was freakin' bizarre. After a brief stint in Tejas I will be in 24 hour sun again in November...but I have loved the overcast & grey days here - it has been such a blessing after the chronic heat-wave vacations I've been taking for the last 5 years.

The second photo is penguin cute overload. Their adorable, stuffed-animal like cuteness is almost ironic against the harsh landscape. And seeing wildlife down here can soften the toastiest soul.

The third photo could probably be used as an art project if I could come up with a good enough caption, but it shows what I'm willing to do to spend June, July and August in a snowy paradise. A co-worker & I were "carpet cleaning" with no previous experience, dumping stinky toxic cleaner into this fisher-priced looking machine of dubious manufacture and quality. It's instruction manual was fat and in Engrish - and the plastic contraption appeared to have been purchased off the shelf next to the "Easy Bake Oven." Is the carpet cleaner now? I dunno. I just signed up to do it to shake up the monotony of my routine. I got some chuckles in with my co-worker as we dumped filthy scunge on ourselves every time we changed the water. I am wearing a respirator as I was concerned about the fumes of the cleaner and hey, this is Antarctica where everything is done either half-assed or on overkill. Ultimately I didn't wear it as it interfered with my glasses. But I did get a picture of me in it, which was really important. Things are getting a little more exciting as we are ramping up for another port call & I get back on the boat in a month. The Cold, Deployment, Redeployment and Pier Ops (or Ship Offload at Mactown): why I love the Ice.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


"Happiness" is the title of one of my favorite films, and one we just watched here on station on what is known as "F&cked Up Friday" movie night. We try to watch things that are bizarre & disturbing, but I also like stuff that is good, so I chose Happiness. So many things about this film are great, but mainly it's a great script with some disturbing subject matter and super interesting story lines. So much about it to me seems to be like real life, just exaggerated - and it's most disturbing parts have an almost epiphanal nature to them; everyone deeply flawed, and deeply aware of it. But this ramble is not intended to be a movie review. I have been thinking about the concept of happiness here at Palmer a lot lately, mostly because the deprivation of stimulation and dearth of activities has me in a sort of withdrawel state. I couldn't wrap my head around what I was feeling here...I don't feel on edge or "crispy" like I can at McMurdo with all the crazy personalities there. I don't feel desolate or lost like I can when I'm in the "real world." But I'm not ecstatically happy either. I don't even think I feel happy...but I feel something...and I feel like something is missing. There is the reality of Winter tasking which can be very very dull & non stimulating. There are only 16 people here and they are all good natured and pleasant enough, but I came in half season and didn't bond with the original group who came down here together. I don't have juicy, bawdy, mealtime conversations like I can at McMurdo. There's no gossip here so that is probably good, but if I were to be perfectly honest I kind of miss it. There is no privacy here so there is nothing to gossip about. I'm reading a book entitled "The Geography of Bliss" where the author, who considers himself an unhappy person, travels to all the places in the world that report the highest happiness rates. What he is discovering is that what one culture considers happy may not be what another does. Americans think they need to be happy all the time or they panic and think something is wrong with them. But what if it was okay not to be happy. I used to be addicted to fun and highs and drama. Now I am attached (I won't say addicted) to having what appears to be an exciting life. I think this makes me happy. It does in lots of ways because it is the life I always dreamed of having, but built in to that lifestyle are certain miseries. A lot of us Iceheads talk about the miseries of working on Ice but we put up with it. Misery here feels sharper and more interesting than misery back home. My back home unhappiness has an undertone of panic to it, and I think that is because I know there is this wide world of choices I could choose to get out of my misery: road trip, movies, hair-cut, buy cool boots, painting workshop, adventure travel, coffee shop, internets, etc. But here, where my world is in two buildings & there is NO place to walk to, misery takes on a different quality & shape: instead of something making me nervous that I want to run from, I know I CAN'T run from it so I HAVE to live with it. And living with it seems to soften it, sweeten it, and make it less miserable...and eventually it fades away and peacefulness takes over. I used to only know thrills and freak outs. I was building toward some sort of thrilling thing all the time and when it fell apart I fell apart. Now, the pleasures are small, but they take on a deeper meaning here in a place with few options. I can read or watch movies in my spare time. People play board games & cards here on weekends (I was warned this would be the "fun" happening in Winter), which I am not interested in, so I get a lot out of the reading and films. I once heard a Bob Dylan quote that stuck with me for a long time. I don't remember it exactly but the interviewer asked him if he was happy and Dylan thought it was a dumb question because he didn't think it was really important whether he was happy or not - that there were states of being that were much more interesting than happiness. This rang true for me and appreciated hearing something vocalized that I'd always sensed and didn't have words for. Am I happy? I don't know. I usually don't know until later when I'm in a situation that is very different that what I've experienced before. What I do know is that I'm not this small of a town, I have to pull upon some pretty adult resources like acceptance, restraint of tongue, tolerance...all good things and probably good for me to practice. One can't indulge in histrionics in a place where you live and work side by side 24/7 with a small group of people. I feel a dearth of something here...a dusty dry empty place in my soul...a place usually filled with intellectual and creative external stimuli. But after the intitial uncomfortableness with this emply place, I saw that I was just in a new place I'd never been in that felt sort of prison-like, but that instead of panicking about it I would just explore it & live in it. I have gotten used to it & it is not so bad. I have moved beyond just thrills and angst, and settled into the middle way, which I never ever in the past would have thought could have brought any sort of happiness with it, but might.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hurtling Towards the Half Century Mark

In these self-photos I always forget to behave as a subject as I am focusing on taking the picture, so I usually end up with some sort of unflattering strained looking grimace. But on closer inspection I realize the common quality of all the most recent self-photos is that I look old. I see a neck I wish were covered up and the beginnings of jowliness. The grey hair is coming in thicker, which doesn't really bother me so much, except when I do a flat one color dye job then the grow out is more harrowing. There is so much I love about aging and I have waxed on about it the last few years, but I am finding that I need to get creative with how to incorporate the obvious aging part with part of me that wants to remain punk rock. Now I've seen old punk rockers who look really cool, and it is apparent that they have completely embraced the grey hair and wrinkles & just continued to wear the black t-shirts & jeans, and they look awesome. These are mostly guys, and my middle aged chick friends that look cool are willing to put a lot of energy into costuming & make-up which I think is great, but which I have absolutely no energy or inclination for. My personal style, like my artwork, will have to evolve based on laziness. I have never used a blow dryer or hair products so I have no idea how to have one of those cool short hair styles. Having it long & unruly seems the best option, though now I have to figure out how to deal with the grey that is not dramatic enough to grow out, but just sprinkled enough to be drab. I've never liked natural hair color, so I will continue dying it, just perhaps not one flat shade. I mentioned laziness connected with my art too...I hated taking technical classes on how to draw or paint, so I just started paining on my own, doing whatever was fun, and I started getting recognition & shows & sales when I rejected all rules on how to paint. Best of all, I was having an incredibly moving experience and tons of fun. I guess the point of all this is I plan to approach middle age with an open mind & not out of fear. I would be lying if I said I was not slightly disturbed but what I see in new photos (I especially look haggy in Antarctica, though I am much happier here), but I am going to go with it. What other choice do I have? One of the best memories I have is being at a punk rock reunion show at SXSW this past March where my absolute favorite band from the Austin scene of the late 70's was playing to a gigantic crowd. The crowd was mostly comprised of tourists, yuppies, folks who buy a wristband & want to watch music from chairs. I paid the $20 just to see the Dicks...and only wanted to be pressed on the stage, like the old days, and was afraid I wouldn't be allowed up there, but then saw about 15 of us from 30 years ago, looking only slightly older, but just as badass move in front of the seated - and when the god Gary Floyd showed up with his giant black glasses & shock of white hair and the middle aged punks shouted every word to Dicks Hate Police with fists pumping I was in that blissful spot I lived in every night in 1979-80....I felt exactly the same as when I was 18-19 years old, and here I was aged 48, with the same energy & desire to smash things up (figuratively). To see that that part of me is alive & well & happy makes me realize that the grey hair & jowls don't fricking matter. If I just stay punk rock on the inside, I will be in my happy place.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Once the Thrill of Arriving

on a new station & starting a new job has worn off, life becomes the same here in Antarctica as it does probably just as much as anywhere else. The one thing that will always keep me fresh & excited is when I go outdoors - I've been indoors quite a bit lately deep into the data entry aspects of my job, but whenever I do go outdoors I'm reminded that holy crap I live in Antarctica and it is so wonderful here. Not wonderful like New York City wonderful, but wonderful like it's blowing puffy soft snow all day & there's soft pink light on the icebergs & the glacier creaks & groans & seems to have a spirit all it's own. Like a desert, it is so alive here - so alive & so wild, which, mixed with the drudgery of the work, makes it more interesting. The only walking I do some days is between the two buildings that comprise berthing & eating. I also work in the building I sleep in so could feasibly go to my office in house slippers. I'm used to logging so many miles a day just walking during my workday at Mactown, that I'm really feeling the tenseness in my body of missing all that walking. I went to the gym on Sunday, & do some yoga here & there, but if I don't want to leave here with 30 extra pounds on me I'm going to have to get on an aerobic program. My memoir reading addiction has kicked in again now that I'm on Ice. It feels wrong in a way to call it an addiction cuz it is SO satisfying. I just read "The Glass Castle" & "Without A Map" and I couldn't wait to get in bed every night to read. I've also set up a painting area in my room & thought I'd get into painting here, but I find myself more wanting just to read.

Because this station is so small & options so limited I find myself thinking about small things back home that seem like they will be extremely thrilling when I get back: riding my scooter to a coffee shop with my laptop and my doggie in his carrier on my chest, not getting up early, and most exciting: churning the wheels on my next trip. The parts of my Europe trip that were so great told me some key things about myself: I can have an immensely satisfying time travelling on my own, and, no matter how much I want to fit in to the hiking, climbing, country loving milieu, I am a city girl at heart. I like a mix of both, but the big thrills for me are in a fabulous big city. I've been to some great ones. Still many more I want to see - Moscow is at the top of the list.

The thing I am happiest about here is the weather. It is mid July and I am having my first "dream weather" summer. It's still over 100F in Austin, & I would be so depressed and angry if I were there. I giggled when I went out to move snow today in the beautiful snowfall...for the first time in a year & a half, I haven't awoken cussing about the reverse SAD was cured by moving here. I don't just like the snow & cold - I love it. I dread the day when I actually see the sun, and hope that it won't be too bad down here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life at Palmer Station, Part I

If you can see them, I'm one of the people on the ground in the hard hats. My first week was intense, fast paced, very fun & challenging. Even though there was some familiarity with ship offloads, (USAP folks aren't allowed to work the pier at McMurdo), it was a new experience helping backload milvans & moving them onto the ship. Every muscle in my body was used & stretched and at the end of the day I felt like I'd done a hard days work. All the bits & pieces came together, and the all the people I work with are so helpful & generous that my first week, which could have been hellish, felt very supported aided by the awesome "get it done" mentality here. The food here is amazing, everyone seems to get along well with each other, and it feels nice to be the ones to help clean up our own station. This is truly a magical place, and it does not feel small or claustrophobic as I had feared. There is an air of comeraderie that transcends such feelings, and I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to get here. And most important, I get to be in an awesome climate, where there is very little sun, and no direct sun. and in June!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Journey to Palmer Station

Still reeling from the incredible trip to England and Ireland, my usual 10 days or so of processing time was backburnered as I hurried to pack & get myself ready to deploy to the smallest of the Antarctica reasearch stations, Palmer Station (the top photo shows the wee station in the background.) The journey involved three nights in denver for "orientation" - I learned all about scaffolding & how to safely climb ladders, but it was basically back on the payroll for me, with some plush cash thrown in for travel & food. There were 4 of us going down to the station for the remainder of the summer (3 1/2 months) and we bonded in the way strangers do who are going into an exciting and unknown adventure. We ate free hotdogs at the hotel to save our cash, and on the morning we started our 25 hour flying ordeal I was saddled with a 74 pounds steel trunk to check in with my luggage. It caused a lot of flack at the airline counter, not to mention having to push this thing through so many airports that I had a pulled back muscle by the time I was on the boat. Anyway, the plane journey ended with a really fun 2 days in Punta Arenas. I was surprised at how much I liked the city, or maybe it was the buzz we were on, those of us who chose to "plow through" our jet lag and stay awake all day, as we wandered through the city for hours stopping for meals, espressos, shopping, taking photos. The third leg of our adventure started when we boarded the LMG to spend the night while it was docked, for it's 8:30am departure. We were to sail for 4 days until we got to the station. Life on board took on an epically funny life of it's own. Our routine was to sleep through breakfast, watch two movies before lunch, eat lunch and watch movies til dinner or sleep more, then eat dinner, more movies before settling in for our 10 - 12 hour death naps. The movement of the boat was like ambien for me. If I tried to lay in my bed & read I just passed out. The rough seas while crossing the Drake Passage were super comforting  to me, just loving the pitching and rolling of the boat.  On the 5th day we got to station & hit the ground running with orientation, working, and a happy reunion with the Willbaker!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Ireland, Part III, An Daingean

The town of Dingle is on the Dingle Peninsula, the westernmost tip of Ireland, with a stunning view of The Great Basket Islands off the Slea Head tip. With some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, it has been the setting for such films as "Ryan's Daughter" & "Far & Away". The locals always talk with horror of Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman's Irish accents in the latter movie. Despite the fact that it was hotter here than any previous day I'd been in country, I walked around Dingle in a cloud of happy memories. 25 years ago my friends & I drank and sang in these 100 year old pubs until they closed, and I knew that I would return to Co. Kerry again, and have a dream of someday buying a house here, which I think I could actually swing. Since this was the last night of the jeep tour I was just going to go to bed early & not go out in the evening as my days of endless hiking had caught up with me and I was mentally preparing to fly back to the states. As I was lying across my bed in my pajamas at 9:00pm, reading one of those tacky British tabloids, I heard a little knock on my door, and knew it was my travel companions seeing if I wanted to go out & hear music with them. I sighed when I answered the door knowing I wouldn't say no, as it is insane to come to Dingle and not go hear traditional music - which I love tremendously. We went to a pub that was full of tourists & two guys were doing a pretty good job doing traditional ballads, but were doing lots of hokey stuff too...I asked if they took requests & the guitarist looked annoyed as I'm sure he thought I was going to ask him to sing "The Eyes of Texas" or some other such nonsense, but I had been wanting to hear the old Scottish ballad Peggy Gordon for so long, & when I requested it he seemed stunned, and said "I haven't sung that song in twenty years" and looked at his box player & then started in on it & I could tell they were truly enjoying doing it as it is a passionate song & it was sung quite passionately. I couldn't help but get a tear in my eye, as I first heard that song in Dingle on my first trip & never forgot it. Needless to say, I was glad I'd come out. After a few crowd pleasers they asked if anyone wanted to come sing a song with them so of course I wanted to do it, hoping they'd let me pick the song (I was dying to do "Auld Triangle") but we did Molly Malone, which was silly, but I got a few jokes in so it was good craic. We left after a few hours and on the way to our hotel heard some blistering fast jigs coming out of another pub & stopped in for some foot stomping good stuff. These guys weren't trying to please the crowd, but themselves instead, so the music was incredible. I stood outside to cool off while the sweat soaked musicians were taking a break, and had super fun conversations with some locals on the sidewalk. I'd gotten so I could tell a Cork from a Kerry from a Dublin accent, and this one guy didn't seem to have a "tick" one at all, so I asked him where he was from & he said Limerick, which, contrary to it's name, is a rough & gritty place. In Dingle, the first language is Irish so anytime we would go into shops, locals spoke Irish with each other so we couldn't understand them. They also paint over the English versions of their city name on signs (see picture) as there is always some friction over The Gaeltacht purists and those wanting to cater to tourists. I have tried to learn some Irish with online lessons, & it requires a commitment as it is such a bizarre language. It was the perfect end to my Irish experience, and made me feel like I still had plenty of dreams in my pocket to shoot for. I said an emotional goodbye to my travel pals, as they were going on for two more days of touring & I was taking the train from Tralee back to Dublin for my last night before flying to Texas (where I was really looking forward to air conditioning!). Back in Dublin I was giddy again...walked around town until bedtime, and felt sad about leaving Ireland. I have to pack for Palmer Station now, and I'm not sleeping as is my habit when I travel. I am so looking forward to spending the austral winter in place that is guaranteed the hot sun will not follow me...but Ireland has stolen my heart again, as it did 25 years ago. I went again in '92 and 2000, but this trip was more like the first one: magical!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ireland, Part II

It's really hard to choose pictures to post from this country, as it seems to have been created to make gorgeous postcards from. But I am prejudiced, as this is my favorite country, and it is not just the physical beauty that startles me, but the combination of that with the people, the music, the history, and the passionate intertwining of all of these. This was my 4th trip to Eire, and it reignited some of those first feelings Ihad when I came in 1984 (ie: this is my home!). But first, I was utterly surprised to see that my tour group had only 3 people on it! The 4th person is the driver & tour guide. In a 4X4, we were able to go to places I'd never been to on my own or on the big busses, as these places are off the tourist grid. My travel companions were a mother & daughter from Louisiana, who were so easy and laid back for people who'd never travelled before. We were in a jeep that could carry up to 14 people, and it felt perfectly comfortable with two of us in back, one riding up front with the driver. They were my perfect travel companions as they eat snacks and road food instead of eating in restaurants (which drives me crazy on vacations) as we see food as fuel and not something to spend hours futzing over. This tour was interesting as it was for the more intrepid traveller, but we stayed in quite luxurious lodging. (The place I'm currently in in Dublin is like a flop motel, but I wanted something lower priced on my last nite. I'm so spoiled now that I'll pay extra next time.). Our first day was doing two touristy things but after that never again. We went to Rock of Cashel, which is stunning, and the Blarney Stone (which I skipped cuz I kissed it last time), and then wended our way down to this unbelievably beautiful place called Gougane Barra in West Cork, which was on a lake with an excellent hiking trail that was two hours straight up, and the countriest tiny church in the center of the lake. This was the day when I realized it was going to be hotter than it even was in Texas, we had all packed for chilly weather, and there is no air conditioning in this country. And the sun stays up til 10:30 or so, so I was taking my walks very very late. The group hike would be high noon, and my fellow travellers were sun worshipers, so I went on my own in the evenings, which was better for me in so many ways - mostly that I got to go as fast as I wanted. Full Irish breakfast was included in the package, so we ate with our tour guide, a sweet girl named Jean who was trying to burn her milky white skin as much as possible. They said it had rained everyday for 3 years until the day I came (I am not making this up) and there hadn't been a week like this in years. The tradeoff is we had this tiny group so we got to decide what we wanted to do, it was like we just had a personal driver who took us off roading a bit then asked us if we wanted to do this variety of optional activities. Anne & Kate were beach people, and I'm a town & culture person, so we compromised a bit. I sat in the jeep while they played on the beach, and they tolerated my gushing at the South Pole Inn. The most wrenching decision we had to make was whether to do the Skellig Islands. This is something I have always wanted to do, they were iffy (on some of the things we would all have to do it or it wouldn't go), but in the end I decided all day exposure in this ultra blinding sunshine might make me heatstroke so I didn't go. This would give us more time in Dingle, which I didn't want to have to scrimp on. Most of the towns we stopped in (Portmagee, Glengarriff) were tiny and adorable, but we'd arrive late so no shops would be open and there might be one pub. Dingle is the capital of traditional Irish music, in the Gaeltacht (which is a place I want to spend much more time), and was where I came 25 years ago and have never forgotten. The girls were all for having a day in a sizable town with shops & being on our own after bouncing around in the jeep for 4 days - so it was great to be able to all agree we wanted a day in town. But I am going to save more about Dingle for my "part 3" posting...because it is my heart's mecca. So for 3 days we ate giant breakfasts and loaded up the jeep with our bags in oppressive sunshine, got dropped off on 2-3 hour hikes in the sun (which sometimes I did anyway, because logistically I had to), & survived by jumping into cold streams & soaking my clothes. Found awesome scrambling rocks, and climbed over & down sheer rock faces to the sea, scaring the living daylights out of my new friends. There was no set itinerary, we could do what we wanted, and it was the best of both worlds: freedom & structure. At the end of the sweltering day I pulled off my thick jeans & wool socks & took a cold shower & laid around for the worst (hottest) part of the day (5-8:30pm), and then it was mercifully coolish & I went on a big aimless ramble, which has become something deeply satisfying to me. There was never any pressure to do stuff together....I hiked by myself & the girls moved a lot slower as they wanted to take lots of pix. I liked the more rugged trails & they liked the we were a great team letting each other move at our own pace. Our 4th (and my last) evening were going to be in Dingle. I expected no emotional response other that to be in this beautiful place that I came to 25 years ago & had one of the greatest times of my life. I was to be surprised at how this place affected me yet again.

Ireland, Part I

I had a great time in England and had started feeling so settled in at the country farmhouse that I was a little wistful about leaving & starting my Ireland journey on my own. But I was also excited, as I enjoy they part about having to figure out to get from the airport to the lodging and striking out on that first walk around the city after ditching the bags in the room. The bus from the Dubin airport to the city center was so easy that I was already checked into my hotel room within 45 minutes of the plane landing. My private hostel room was much posher than I'd anticipated (justifying the high price) but so tiny I could barely turn around in it...but to be downtown after a week in the country was heaven. Once I get going in a big walking city it's hard for me to stop...I'll walk until the bottom of my feet are numb. I had my map of downtown & had seen the Temple Bar, O'Connell St, Trinity University, & most other walkable stuff my first evening. I was totally excited about getting up the next day & having the whole day to do whatever I wanted before joining my tour group on Sunday morning. Saturday I went to the Grafton St. area & shopped. It was super sunny that weekend in Dublin so Irish people were flopped out on every available patch of grass or sidewalk just wreaking havoc on their pale skin. The biggest downside of my whole trip thus far was the amount of sunshine - Texas in July style sunshine, and I was ok with it in Dublin as there was a cool breeze, and I knew there was no way it would keep up - that once I got into the jeep & started going West there would be fog, dark clouds, some wonderful wild and short Irish showers (boy was I in for a rude awakening!). Everyone I talked to in town said it would change, and that they loved this weather so much as to be a miracle from God. I convinced myself it would cool off by Sunday, and spent all Saturday walking on the shady side of the street as is my custom. I saw the Guinness brewery, which was amazing, and is this year celebrating it's 250th year, spitting out 4 million pints of day, of which 1.5 million are exported. I didn't go inside & do the big tour, so as not to be tempted to taste the black stuff (which I associate with so many incredible memories). I loved Dublin, and got to know it better than my previous visits. I ended my day regrettably early as I had to be at the downtown spot by 8:30 Sunday morning to catch my tour group. I had been worried that I would feel too aimless and alone in Dublin after being in a family situation in England, but the opposite turned out to be true: I was so in my element in a vibrant city full of character and intensity that every moment sparkled with focus and purpose, and I was only doing aimless things like wandering about, window shopping, and watching buskers. It was solitude amongst the crowds that I'd been craving.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

West Sussex, England

Be Careful What You Ask For...

I am a big believer in the power of intention. My life shows clear evidence of the fruits of powerful desire made manifest. This is niether good nor bad, just proof that our outsides mirror our insides. I have studied and practiced enough Eastern religion to know that your life becomes what you think about - so I try to think of positive things, though I am not always successful, and those negative things show up in my life quite dramatically. Enough new age philosphy for now! I can't help feeling philosophical though, as the recent dramatic turn of events shows me that I am less in control of events that I often think I am. As I was on my last day in Austin, frantically tying up all loose ends in preparation for my European odyssey (actually, I was sitting at a coffee shop, trying to get in my last dose of Weird Austin for a while), I got a call (on a Sunday) from the hiring manager for Palmer Station in Antarctica, asking me if I could sail to the station on June 5th. My trip to London was in two days, I had a 5 day adventure tour booked in Ireland after a week in England, and then I was going to fly to Helsinki June 5th to take a 15 day journey through the Baltic lands, ending up in Berlin, a city I wanted to explore in depth. Long story short is I spent about 48 hours locked in indecisive torment, praying for guidance, and getting more & more information from the Ice folks that made deploying more appealing: the date was pushed back to being in Denver on June 9th, so that I could do two weeks in Europe and not have to cancel the whole trip. Also, the position they were offering me was less of a desk job than the original, and has no supervisory elements. By the night before I was to fly to London, there was no doubt I was going to choose to go to work instead of to play over the next several months. I have been unemployed so long as to be annoyed with it, and the opportunity to go to this tiny station is a rare one. These ancient and interesting countries will still be here when I want to return...and now that I have 8 months of work before me, I will have the security of loads more cash. Also, one of my greatest wishes has been to not ever have to experience summer again. I dread the months of May-September so much that I have been considering moving to Alaska for sometime now (though where I am now, West Sussex in England, has a delightful climate in May). Not only will I be at the Antarctic station during this time, but it will be DARK - something I have wanted to experience for a long time, as I am not a fan of sunshine either. I haven't been wintering on Ice because the season is too long for me to be away from my dog. My mom will keep him for a certain amount of time per year, but he is my responsibility and I do not want to abandon him completely. He is almost 12, and I will probably have to take some time off of the Ice eventually anyway when he starts to go downhill.

So to tie this ramble in with the title, even though I was meticulously planning & researching every aspect of this trip, there was a seed inside of me that felt like something was off about it, that is was not really what I wanted, and was sad that I had not gone to Palmer with Will in March...I would have deployed if someone was not able, but the boat sailed & I thought my opportunity was gone. I would have never guessed in my wildest dreams that I would be able to go down for half the season. And all the while I was making plans to fill in the gaps between tours on this Europe trip I could not ignore that my heart was not in it. It felt lonely doing it all by myself...and I couldn't quite get a handle on why I wasn't into it - even though I know from experience that once I get on the plane I get into the travel groove. I am also staying with a wonderful family here in the English countryside so I will not have a chance to get lonely as I will be with a group in Ireland also. At first I balked at how much money I was going to lose by cancelling the one big tour, and having to buy an expensive one way ticket back to the US, but now that I've gotten my travel itinerary for deployment, the money issue seems irrelevant...I would not have changed my plans for McMurdo or Pole, but for Palmer I'm sure it will be worth it. I will not have time to recuperate in Houston before getting on the plane again, but deep down I asked for adventure beyond the "planned" adventure I had going, and that is exactly what I got. The Siren Song of the Ice is more powerful than my small plans, in this case at least.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adventure Bound

I took this photo in Taos last week, and it speaks more to the beauty of the place than my photographic abilities. The combination of the unguessable time of day, the clouds that look painted on, and the flatness of perspective that evokes a postcard-like feel make this one of the most intriguing pictures I've taken. The lushness of the sagebrush foreground contrasted against the sears portrait studio backdrop-esque mountians almost make it cheesy, but at the same time this sacred spot at the penitente church on sacred Indian lands is very special to me and the girls I go out here with, so this is a rapturous photo to me.  I've blogged about these painting workshops for years...this was my 12th or 13th one - it is the deepest spiritual work I do, and I feel so grateful to have found this teacher and this work.

I less than a week I fly to Europe for 5 weeks. I am doing this trip alone, and am amazed how much resistance I'm feeling as it gets closer. Almost 3 weeks of it will be on tours I've arranged, and, it's not covering huge land mass areas, but many different tiny and interesting sounding countries will be explored. As a native Texan, there is a thrill in being able to drive across an entire country in a few hours - it just seems amazing. So I will be visiting England, Ireland, Finland Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany. The Finland-Germny portion is two weeks with an adventure tour operator, and the other tour is 5 days on a jeep doing the southwest coast of Ireland (sigh). I feel strange telling people about my life when the economy is bad & people are losing jobs & struggling. I went on two luxury vacations within 3 week of each other and now I'm going to Europe for 5 weeks - I am on the other side of the economic spectrum: flush, money to spend on non-essentials, not only non-essentials but on my "dream" life - when is the other shoe going to drop? Oh yeah, there is no "shoe." (Only the "habit" of guilt, then punishment). It is not in my nature to "enjoy life." I am used to it feeling like a struggle.

When I was a child I fantasized about travel & moving & seeing places I'd never been to. Going to Helsinki feels very exotic to me, as Istanbul did two years ago. I realized that my childhood dreams have come true, but at the same time feel a gravity in my soul. I'm not sure what it is but it feels like with the achieving of a certain status that one has worked hard for comes with some sort of responsibility to one's fellow man - a responsibility to show that dreams are there for a reason - and there is a price to pay for one's dreams, but that's the subject of another posting (long). Travel emboldens me, makes me confident, and makes me want to spread the word that anyone can do this - it's not really all that expensive, but there's a lot of super detailed planning & compiling of details that goes into a trip where you're making all your reservations and plane flights. It was the journey of getting here that was so heady: the seed of the dream, the first taste of it on my first trip to Europe 32 years ago, then many years of daydreaming & scheming & spottily getting to travel, then working my way into my current lifestyle of working 1/2 the year & travelling all I want in the other part. And now I understand why it's the journey that is more important than the destination - because like Spock said in one of my favorite episodes "having is not the same as wanting." Once you get there, there's a little bit of "now what?" There was a time when I couldn't imagine how one got it together enough to by a car, a house, have a stable realtionship. I have never had a desire to have a domestic life, my own family, or to do yard work. I was just designed for something else. I found it and worked for it...but there are moments when I am alone, like now, between trips, where I trying to find the point of it all - was it to show I could do it? Is my life an example to someone whose afraid to "go for it" as my life shouts "go for it!" I am aware that I am not doing this travel to entertain or pleasure myself. Maybe I am doing it to fill time before going back to the Ice, or to have something to blog about, but hopefully there is a deeper reason, reasons I am not even aware of yet. The way I feel after a particularly good trip (this year: skiing) is a joy I never knew existed. And to have new feeling states has got to open up my world and touch those that know me. I love it when I find myself in a place where I can encourage someone to follow their passion, and I see that little spark in their eye. I am really feeling the difference of age too. When I travelled to Ireland in '84 it was about romance and drinking and being the brash Yank. Now I will be more attuned to subtleties (no drinking!) and most look forward to bonding with the people I meet in the tour group: my "family" for the week! So there are some pedestrian feelings amongst all this - I used to just envision my travel life like that scene from "Braveheart" where he is traipsing amongst the Highlands, shrouded in mist, being mythologized in voice-over. The nuts & bolts of planning temper the romance, but the underlying excitement of the unknown will always be my motivation. I don't know what this trip will be like, but I'm sure it will be full of new experiences, and that is one reason I don't feel bad about spending all this money on this trip. The money I "saved" last year has all but dissappeared, but the money I spend on travel will never be regretted.

I used to have a recurring dream where someone was handing me very beautiful jewels and I would run away & not take them. I did not trust that someone was giving me something so beautiful without a catch. The life I have now is the jewel I have let myself grab - and I cannot just say I am lucky...there is some luck, but mostly, I yearned for it, then made it an intention, and focussed on it until it became a reality. Mountains beyond mountains - step by step, anything can be made manifest.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Mishmash of Meanderings

When I finally decided to stop saying "I hate Austin" and  I "hate this f__king hot sunny weather" I was surprised to find I had a really great week being in hometown. (God, I can't wait til I start travelling again so I have something to really write about!). I was utterly sick of hearing myself say this to every single person I met - I would insist they know this about me in the first few minutes. I had turned into someone I heard complaining all the time about something they could easily change by moving! But the truth is...I don't hate Austin. I love/hate it. So, on Monday I made the decision I would not tell everyone how much I hate Austin & the weather here. I am usually semi-panicking about how to fill all the hours of the day so I signed up for 3 volunteer shifts at three different places. All were really fun & I felt like I'd been at "work," and the places are so grateful to have you there. I felt myself wanting to complain about the sun (it has been what 99% of people of the earth would describe as "gorgeous" weather here these past two weeks- 80's, breezy, sunny, cloudless skies) but I would stop myself and just agree that is was nice or not say anything (no reason to LIE & say I like it). What I realized after a few hours of this was that I wasn't really saying anything, and miracle of miracles, I was enjoying some peace - I seemed to sort of recede into (a usually unwelcome) ordinariness when I wasn't complaining, and this wasn't as dowdy a place as I thought it would be. And then something even stranger happened: I walked outside & didn't immediately say "fuck" under my breath when I saw the sunshine, and I didn't just endure the pain of it, it actually was sort of pleasant. And then I saw my biggest fear wasn't that I would never be able to find a cool cloudy place to spend my down time, but that I might have to accept the parts of me that are like everybody else. Horror of horrors! 

And then it rained. It rained for so long and so hard for one full day that I did not leave my apt. I laid in bed & drank coffee & read two books and felt a joy beyond imagining. I love rain so much. Then the sun came out the next day & I decided not to act like I was in the seventh circle of hell.

One of my volunteer gigs was at the local food bank warehouse. I was on a crew with the IT department of the Whole Foods flagship store here. Our job was to take giant triwalls (they call them "tubs") of baby diapers and feminine hygiene products and separate them into 10 lb. boxes & stack them on pallets. We got a little assembly line going and the IT girls were giggling as the men looked shell shocked trying to discern all the different types of fh supplies. The food bank get donations of tons of this stuff from stores & individuals. The stores can't sell any package that is torn, so about half our products were torn and this one macho guy's job was taping up all the torn packages of maxi-pads, tampons, and panti-liners. He humbly & caringly taped every little tear, and the girls were taking photos of them with their cell phones. This one guy was holding up a triangular box with a perplexed look & went over to inspect & it was a box of panti-liners for thongs. Even us girls are overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of choices of these products, so we got a kick out of seeing all these guys handle all this stuff so graciously. Another part of the shift I had to package baby diapers with  this 17 year old boy. I was as confused by the diapers as the men were about the thong liners with wings, and there was a point where we realized we'd screwed up our tasking as we'd been told to write the weight on the packages (the boxes were torn so we packed them in their cellophane wraps) & we had been writing the weight of the box and not the weight of the CHILD the diapers were intended for. I've spent about 3 minutes of my 48 years around infants so I didn't think anything when the packages rolled by me all saying "5" or "3" on our team leader came by & said, no "it's the weight of the BABY you write!", so we spent about 10 minutes trying to find that information on the box. Sheesh! (all along I'm thinking, where's the giant "tubs" of birth control people!) Then we had to do adult diapers. I tried to make a joke that we'd covered the human secretion needs from infancy to decrepitude in our shift, but no one laughed, as my crass humor is not universally appreciated. I had so much fun at the food bank I decided to volunteer at the Reggae Festival Saturday night. I stood & took thousands of peoples money as they poured into the show. I got a free t-shirt out of the deal, then buzzed home to meet a childhood friend who took me to an avant-garde theatre piece late night. It was called Tennebrism, and was a two person show about Jesus, Joy Division, and Caravaggio. Local avant garde theatre always makes me love living here so much, that I realize I have to live in a city that has culture. Aside from the reggae festival (which I can hear from my apt right now!), and all the music & theatre, the Hot Rod show was in town too...there is just always so much going on here. 

I also saw two great movies this week: "Adventureland" and the Swedish film "Everlasting Moments." I've never seen a bad Swedish film, and this one had the enveloping gorgeousness of say "The Best Intentions," that incredible film about the relationship between Ingmar Bergman's parents. I also saw one terrible flick (Observe & Report) and one mediocre one "State of Play." Every time I went to the movies this past week my intention was to see "Gomorrah," but no one wants to see it, and when I went by myself to see it today, the projector was broken...hmmm...

So, I figured out a way to make life in Austin not only bearable but enjoyable: do volunteer work, and stop complaining. Seems like I'd have a lot to do as I have a 5 week trip to Europe coming up, but travel is so easy now there's really nothing to do. I bought the tours, the airline tix, some of the hotel rooms...and the rest I'll just wing. I will also be visiting the Motherland: Scandinavia. Yes, I have recently discovered that Kendall, my last name, is a Viking name (Kindahl), which then became Kendal (an ancient English name) when the Swedes settled in the Lakes District of England (WAY before 1066) where the town bearing my surname is located. I plan to visit this town on my way to Helsinki. So, keep reading, exciting stuff is coming I promise!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"explaining your nomadic lifestyle to annoying parents"

Luckily, I don't have annoying parents, but if I did, thank god for the internet so I could find out how to deal with them. Think of all the poor sods who had problems before google existed. What did they do? My StatCounter(tm) embedded in my blog shows me the google searches that pull up my blog. This (the title of this posting) was one of the funnier ones, and unfortunately they would not be able to get help from my blog, as I am too old to have to explain my lifestyle to anyone! But I remember those fragile years fresh out of college when you have no effin' idea what is going on & what you are going to do with your life. I felt blindsided by reality; I thought my college degree was going to get me a "job" of some sort, but I quickly saw I was utterly on  my own to figure out what kind of life I was going to have. Because I started off in office work, that's where I was 20 years later when I finally got the 'nads to live my dream & quit secretarian' to go work grueling long hours outdoors in Antarctica. I just saw a Springsteen show & he was singing about the working class and moving up out of the "cold lumberyard," and how ironic it was that I went from a cozy office life TO the cold lumberyard. Literally, my last and most badass job on Ice was in the lumberyard at McMurdo, trying to pull out 16 1" x 4"  x 20"s in 40mph winds in negative 5 weather and figuring out how to unstrap the load without it falling over the hillside for the whole town to see - doing more physical work in two weeks that I can remember doing in a whole year. And the best part was how fulfilling it was at the end of the day. There was a notion when I was growing up that the "trades" were for people who didn't go to college & were somehow less valued, but I think the secret I've seen is a trade can open up the world of work possibilities for someone. I have mechanic, electrician, plumber friends who are doing very high paid work in exotic locations all over the world & seem to be resistant to layoffs. Earning a college degree was heady and exciting and full of hard work, but it taught me nothing about the world of work. My work ethic was engrained in me early in my life, and that is why I've had success at my jobs. Luckily, there are a handful of jobs at McMurdo for non tradespeople that are not desk jobs - and that is the place I find myself having the most fun.

Working seasonally has changed everything for me. I no longer own property. I am allergic to buying stuff because I have to move it around so much. My "down time" in Austin is spend trip planning because nothing else makes sense anymore. I bought art supplies & tried to do some arty stuff now that I have my own apt., but it was only entertaining for an hour or so, and because I know I can do anything right now, sitting in my house making stuff isn't as much fun as it used to be. When I painted for years I knew I was on a work/pay mortgage track. Now I on a 1/2 year of freedom track...I have a big trip coming up: London, Scotland, Finland (a bunch more Baltic countries), ending up in Berlin. It is written in some people's DNA to be adventurous or nomadic or to do artwork in a cozy home environment. If you "go with what glows" (Natalie Goldberg) for you, you don't have to explain anything to anyone - and besides, if someone is uncomfortable with your lifestyle, it has nothing to do with you - it is all about them.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

And if this wasn't enough, I get to see Springsteen this week

Closing week on Taos Mountain has surprisingly good weather for this time of year - cold with lots of snow. I have never skied powder before so it was thrilling and challeng
ing. But the skiing is only a fraction of why this past week was so amazing: there was hardly anyone on the mountain, lots of single people at the hotel (I'm usually tacked onto meals with families), and the friends I made this week I will never forget. I was just at the ABQ airport feeling that pulsing, incredibly centered feeling one gets after a powerful life-enhancing event, and wondering why this ski week was as mind blowing as the painting workshop that I also go to in Taos - and it must be because of the incredible positive energy and genuine happiness radiating from the people I am around. My whole being felt like a crotchety old caterpillar bursting from it's cocoon with high tech quick dry fabric wings, black & glossy like my budget ski costume. Almost floating (instead of tumbling) down the steep terrain without effort as the week went on. (I actually saw a video of me skiing this week and I looked more like an armadillo than a butterfly on my turns). And this transformation is mirrored in the bonding aspect of the intense social connections as well. The hugs goodbye are filled with moist eyes as we've gotten so close having had every meal together, running into each other on the mountain, and sharing about our jobs (?), romance status, travel goals, with a bit of gossip thrown in as in this small a community their tends to be a lot of drama going on. But my non skiing transformation during this week was in my perception of myself of a slacker, addled type person, to someone who people find interesting & worth talking to, worth inviting to their homes in countries that I love (an am about to visit). I tend to think people are going to find me obnoxious & self-absorbed, but this week I felt true respect radiating from my new bffs...skiing seems to elicit an Antarctic-like camaraderie, and as if God himself was hitting me over the head with the physical manifestation of my deservedness, a beautiful pair of skis was given to me by an incredibly lovely family from Chicago, a gift so generous I was speechless. They had bought a new pair in Taos & didn't want to hassle with taking the old ones back & selling them, and they knew I didn't have any and so now they are mine. I felt so ridiculously unworthy of such a gift, yet I said thank you and stored them at the St. Bernard for next season. It feels like a sign. Like I should move there for the next season & embark on yet a new career: ski-bumette...and there was one special young man: English, just graduated from Oxford, there with his whole family: mom, dad, two younger siblings...he was going to extend his trip & travel to the Grand Canyon, Vegas, LA and San Francisco. He told me of his plans & I encouraged him to alter some of the logitics (absolutley NO hitchhiking!) and gave him my BART card with about $10 left on it. To be able to advise someone just starting out in life, and seeing that open-eyed, youthful eagerness to explore foreign places is just so much fun. My French Canadian gal pal Val, Toni - the amazing fashion goddess, Rex from Amarillo, Tex from Japan, Mike from San Diego...we were the bawdy dinner crew. I didn't think any week could get more amazing than my first one. The second one was. I didn't think there was ANY WAY my 3rd week could get more amazing than my second - it was WAY more intense. I keep waiting for the goodies to stop flooding it but they won't stop. 

And I get to see Springsteen this week.

I talked to Will on the phone today & was breathlessly reporting my exciting time skiing. He is settling into what I hope will be a very rich experience for him at Palmer Station. I said "I may not go back to the Ice but may go work in the ski village instead!" And later I thought, oh he might be disappointed if I did that, but then I realized if I hadn't met him, I would've never learned to ski at all...ah the ironies of life.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

13th Day on Skis

I had so much anticipatory dread about coming skiing this year...the trip is arduous with the severe altitude change, and I had a hard time justifying the expense as I haven't worked much in the past year, but after this morning's glorious run I have no doubt it was the most intelligent thing I could have done. I am not a natural on skis. My first week was very difficult: my fear & resistance level so high I knew something was going to have to break by day 4 or I was never gonna leave the bunny hill. Today was the first time I saw people that were more beginner-y than I am. It was thrilling. I've progressed. I was really scared at first as I'd assumed I'd have to start over but it came back very quickly, and my adored teacher of the past two years, Smitty, met me at the ski off & after watching me do one run down the bunny hill he said c'mon we're going to the top of the mountain. Areas that scared me last year seemed easy this time. I was grinning almost the whole time. I wasn't just sweating it out & hoping it'd be over soon, I was truly enjoying finally having the control and confidence to do full runs without falling & scaring myself so much that I'd fall. And I must have picked up speed as we covered so much more ground than the last run last year. And I didn't fall down once - this is truly significant. And I'm skiing on nice fairly new snowfall for the first time. And this is closing week & there is hardly anyone here - it's awesome! And then there is the 2 hour dinner with all my new friends I just met, where the conversation went from the technicalities of skiing to holistic medicine with lots of laughter and incredible French cuisine. I feel lucky to have found this particular ski lodge with it's funky European-ness, and the dedicated skiiers who have been coming here faithfully for years. Jean Mayer, the ski master, chef, and owner of the hotel, is in his 70's, and has an infectious joie de vivre that is inspiring. The people that ski here are serious skiiers - there are no nightclubs or distractions or shopping, just the mountain. I felt like such an outsider when I first saw this world - I didn't think I could ever be a part of it, and 4 years ago I had no desire to be a part of it - but it is a world of people who have a shared passion for a sport that is endlessly interesting and where you never stop learning. By my third hour I had progressed farther than I can remember at any point in my babyhood of skiing. I could feel it, and asked Smitty for confirmation. He said there were people who had been skiing many years who were still in a "death grip wedge" (or snow plow as some people call it), and I saw a lady like that today: she had been skiing 30 years, had to be helped out of the chair lift by her instructor so she wouldn't fall, and has never left the bunny slope. I hope she is having a good time, and I am so glad that I crossed that line of fear & went for it because that could be me. I remember when I had made the decision to not leave the bunny slope & my instructor tricked me into going up to the top of the mountain. That was day 4. I had to change my decision to progress, because getting all the way down the mountain with my resistance would have been torture, so I did the thing I did not think I could possibly do: let go of control & dive forward straight down the run. That was the moment that I lived the bible quote about (paraphrasing) "when I was a child I thought like I child but when I became a man I put away childish things..." When I decided to go for it, I began my journey as a skiier. I was told I would be doing blacks on day 15. Something I could not have imagined on day 4, 8, or even yesterday. If it was up to me, I'd still be on the bunny hill. The most amazing thing I have learned by skiing all of my mornings with an intructor is the incredible value of being pushed - and pushed hard. Doing something one is not naturally good at has it's own humbling value, but being pushed by an expert who believes in you when you don't believe in yourself is amazing. I know so many people who say they ski & have never taken lessons - I don't know if I would have stayed past the first day if that were the case with me. Comfort zones are not good for me. I need to spend quite a bit of time in the world of unknowing & awkwardness & discomfort - that world that pushes you to keep moving forward and discovering what comes next in your personal evolution. I know people who live by the opposite philosophy: never move any faster than the slowest part of you wants to go. I found this very interesting as I tend to take not well thought out action when I'm in a panic, but I tried NOT doing anything and I saw the beauty of that line of thinking, and its probable value in certain areas of life (ie: personal relationships), but what I get out of being pushed past what I think are my limited abilities is an enormous amount of confidence. I can't get confidence just sitting around hoping for it, I have to earn it. I earned some today. Yea!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Luxury Problems

The past couple of weeks have been filled with ennui, excitement, the surreal experience of SXSW, saying goodbye to Will again for an Antarctic winter season, and the acceptance than I will have to wait until October to go back down to the Ice. But the wheels are already in motion for to be rehired again, so now it's just a matter of filling the time until I go back. I feel like I should be working, but this time I really cannot find a job - even my usual temporary gig at the University is not available as they are having a hiring freeze. Fortunately, I have a cushion, three trips already planned, and a beautiful swanky garage apt. to live in for the few days in April I'll be here in Austin.

I bought a sxsw film festival pass and I have seen four documentaries that have been astounding. I don't know if these films will be available for the masses but they were each so good that I have been floored after each screening. The first one I saw was "Sons of A Gun" about three mentally ill men living with their alcoholic caretaker. They had lived with each other so long they were a family, with all the affection and bickering that goes on in normal families. But when things went awry in the "family" there were catastrophic consequences, and near the end of the film, you find out who the sickest member of the family is heartbreaking and heartwarming to live so intimately with these men on screen. Most folks see around 3-6 films a day during the film fest but I've only done one each day - what I've been seeing is so good I want to go home and process the feelings around it & not just go get back in line for another movie. The second film I saw was "Rene," a Czech film that followed a boy for 20 years as he was in & out of prison. He didn't appear to have anything mentally wrong with him & was highly intelligent & handsome, but was a career petty thief who seemed to be socially broken from a young age. He wrote books in prison that were published, got "f&ck of people" tattooed in giant letters on his neck, and would get out of prison only to be thrown back in a few months later. Very depressing, yet again, you felt like you lived with this man on his sad journey, and you wanted so bad for him to embrace one positive thing about life to make him go straight, but he seemed utterly incapable of it. The third film I saw was called "Motherhood" about 6 women who'd lost a child each, and were taken to a poor town near Cape Town, South Africa, to volunteer in orphanages of kids who'd lost their parents to AIDS. The most striking thing about this film was something I've heard & seen over & over again: the people who have the most materially are the unhappiest, and the poorest folks know how to band together in their grief & support each other. It seems so logical to go be with all these parentless children when you've lost a child, but it was very tough for the women, but they were all enriched & transformed by the experience. The last & most affecting doco I saw was "Over the Hills & Far Away," about a Texas family who go to Mongolia to see a shaman to treat their son's autism. Mongolia is on top of my destination list so I was interested in this film, and what happens is absolutely amazing, and I am not going to tell it here as anyone interested in docos, or who is a parent, should see it. I only saw 5 films with my pass, but without it, I don't know if I would have seen any of it was truly a treat to get to see these films.

I have quite an adventure planned for the summer: I had booked a container cruise that sailed from London to Buenos Aires, but cancelled it for a variety of reasons and have instead used the same tour company & booked a trip that begins in Helsinki & ends in Berlin two weeks later. It goes to 6 countries I've never been to so I'm pretty excited about that. It is strange doing adventure travel like this without Will, but going with a group will be fun & organized and I'll do much more than I would do by myself. After seeing the Mongolia film, I may tack on a two week Mongolia trip (with a tour operator also). After the Eastern European trip Will & I did two years ago, I saw that travel is easy. You just book a train or plane a few days ahead at the internet cafe & find a hotel on hostelworld & off you go. I plan to go to the UK a couple of weeks ahead of the Helsinki tour & stay with my old friend Julie in her country estate, pop over to Ireland & try to hit a few Islands in Scotland before flying to Finland.

With all this, I can still find a reason to feel off kilter and forlorn in the middle of the day. I miss working. There is a hiring freeze at my usual gig. And mostly, I know Will and the Palmerites are on the LM Gould on the beginning of an incredible journey (and getting paid for it) and I didn't make the cut. I am so happy for him but am sad I am not there to experience it. Even with all this exciting travel planned, the thing I am most looking forward to is getting back to the Ice.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Collapsible German Building

I am currently house sitting for a friend who is gone for a month. I am in South Austin, near everything hip & groovy, in a 60 year old house in what has become a very expensive neighborhood. I haven't lived by myself in 4 years, and before that I lived by myself for the majority of my adult life. I was afraid I might be lonely but that is not the case.

I am in heaven. I had been living with a friend this past year in an 800 sq. ft. house, and before that lived with my boyfriend or a roommate in a tiny dorm room at McMurdo. Now I love these people I lived with dearly, but the bliss of living alone I had forgotten. I have to force myself to leave this cozy quiet nest. I never turn on the a/c whereas my previous roommate ran it if it were over 60F outside. I  never hear TV or radio or play music. I have just been hypnotized into peace with the gentle sounds of cars driving by, the ceiling fan humming overhead, and the train that rumbles by at midnight. I hear the tinkling of windchimes somewhere and my little dog is nestled next to me on the bed. I feel myself wanting to fiercely hold onto this privacy and control over my environment. I have yearnings sometimes to buy a house (because it is a good time right now) to use as investment & for rental income, but after living alone for 5 days (with the added bonus of wifi in my bedroom again!) I wonder if I just want to buy a house to live in again. After 4 years of the seasonal, nomadic lifestyle and feeling like I'm really getting the hang of it (ie: travel more, stay in Austin less, roll with houselessness); at the same time, the more nomadic I get, the more delicious this ephemeral "rootedness" experience I'm having now is (and had for many years and completely took for granted). When I first got a job in Antarctica the thing I was most afraid of was having a roommate. I don't have good experiences with roommates in general, and I have to assume that I am the difficult one to live with. I am usually too scared to communicate with them, and often feel like I am in a prisoner/jailer type situation. I am highly particular about the temperature of the house being what I want it to be when I'm just sitting around (which is mainly what I'm doing in a house). I don't ever want to hear television when I am not watching it. If it is my house I own I expect the person to stay in their room & be quiet, which is how I am when I live in someone else's house. But last summer I shared an enormous old house with a man who was so quiet that I often did not know whether he was there or not. He didn't have a car so I truly didn't know without knocking  on his door, and later found out he was hardly ever there, but when he was was as sylphlike as a cat, silently padding along the acres of hardwoods, like watching a character in a movie with the sound turned off. The perfect roommate. Some people are loud & come from noisy families. I grew up in  a house where you could hear a pin drop 24/7 and I think that early programming has stayed with me. The one time that I felt I was truly going insane was when I was living in a condo where I could hear noise above me & on one side. For me it was a nightmare - and this condo complex was right on a major highway, which was why most people moved out eventually. Ironically, I find highway, train, traffic noises very comforting.

This is a boring post. Now no one will ever want to be my roommate - haha! Oh, and the past few weeks has shown me that my reverse "SAD" is getting worse. It was in the 90's last week. It is in the high 80's this week & I can hear the annoying condensers & lawn equipment already. The relentless, stabby feeling sun is always out, and this year, once again, I tried to "toughen" myself up & have been going on two hour walks every day around the lake. There is dappled shade but a good 1/2 hour stretch of sun beating on my head. That is what kills me: the exposure. I have to come lay in bed for several hours with a "sun headache" until I can get up again. This hot and sunny weather compromises my life to the point where I don't really have a life in this climate. I am just waiting for cold or clouds, or travelling to find it & it's rarely there. We had a glorious winter month where it was very dark & cloudy and not above freezing for a long time. I was so happy. I loved that movie "Frozen River" because of the snow and ice everywhere. I changed my mind about doing the trans-siberian this summer because I decided I want to do it in the winter, when there are no tourists and plenty of beautiful snow. I chose the container ship because it leaves from London (where I've heard it is cloudy, but not on the four occasions I've been there) and arrives in Buenos Aires in the Dead Of Winter. I was never into Goth or vampire stuff, but I must have vampire or mole blood. 

Film Review: "Two Lovers" has been touted as "art," with stellar performances by Joaquin Phoenix and others. It was pure shite! Here's this super loser guy whose around 30, lives with his parents, tried to kill himself by jumping into like 5 feet of water in the first scene, and has not one, but two gorgeous women wanting to sleep with/marry him. And I mean really beautiful! One of them is Gwyneth Paltrow, who is a goddess in my book, and I don't even like blondes. And usually I find Joaquin very sexy, but in this film he was so pathetic & had such low personality marks that I could just never buy why he was able to get both of these gorgeous babes to sleep with him. His room looked like 12 year old boy squalor central, and he was a delivery boy for his dad's dry cleaning business. He had been institutionalized, and from this film you'd think he was the only available bachelor in the greater NYC area. I mean, I lived there too, and dating was rough, but there were plenty of guys to choose from. The odds were good but the goods were odd. Now these women were co-dependent messes, but usually if you are model gorgeous, that is not a factor. The funnest part of viewing this film was taking the piss out of it with my friend Jaime, who made me laugh so hard near the end that I never regained composure. I guess the thing that was most surprising is that I never cared about any of these people. The director didn't make any of them lovable - only the sweet blue-eyed father of Phoenix's character conjured empathy from me, but not a whole lot because there was no tough love, no consequences for his son's reckless, narcissistic behavior. It was actually refreshing to see the rich lawyer sugar daddy, because, even though I think the filmmakers wanted us to see him as a sleazebag, he was such a strong, self assured character that he was actually the most likeable; not all wishy-washy, self-absorbed and goal-less like the love triumvirate. Don't waste your money seeing this one, unless you have some irreverent friend to go with you and laugh at how pathetic everyone is!