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!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Pearl at Any Price

It's interesting if you are someone like me who has had very strong dreams and desires all of their life, who at times thought they were "pipe" dreams or the "six impossible things before breakfast" style of thinking which happens to me upon awakening. Before I get out of bed I'm planning the painting supplies I'm going to buy that day, the scuba class I'm going to sign up for, the travel plans I have to make. I've always known I wanted to travel, but in actuality, I haven't done a great deal of it (not as much as I see some Antarctic workers doing). I don't go off for months at a time. I do have an old doggie that I love dearly and spend time with, so I do a lot of short trips, but I want to do an epic trip. So I've taken a step in that direction and booked a cabin on a container ship that sails from London to Buenos Aires in 32 days, stopping many places in Europe, Western Africa, and South America.

There was a time in my life when I couldn't imagine that I'd have the freedom and money to do this sort of thing. But I wanted it so badly that that must be the reason it has come true. I kept myself  "free" for this. I never had children as they were not a part of the grand design for my life. I sold my house and found seasonal work in a place that has transformed the word "work" for me because it is so fricking fun. And then there's the extras: getting to meet Werner Herzog IN Antarctica, and having him do a bit part in our film (wow!). Having had a bunch of art shows with no art training - just the vision in my mind of having it. Discovering the nervous tweaky excitement of being on a stage & winging it in improv classes. Being almost fifty years old and feeling an excitement and possibility about the future that I had when I was 18.

This is how life is interesting: when the Universe is holding your dreams right in front of you and saying "Take This!" if you are like me you go through a whole doubting process about what you really wanted in the first place because you are scared to take it. There were years when I could not see what was being offered & downright refused it. I had a recurring dream of some beautiful lady trying to hand my gorgeous gems & I refused them. I am hardwired to not think there's a lot of good coming my way so I've had to really say "yes" to all the opportunities that I can afford that come my way and sound like they fit my soul's yearning. When I was about to call to put my deposit on this container ship adventure I started thinking "that is not what I really want to do, I really want to do the Trans-Siberian rail journey," so I started looking into that & started thinking of how it could be uncomfortable, then thought that the cruise could be "boring" and as would be my old behavior, was going to blow the whole thing off & suck it up for another horrific Austin summer so I could "save money."

Thank God I'm older, know life is short, and hate summer badly enough that I'll do anything to get out of here! The interesting thing about having your dreams come true is that there is a moment where you don't believe it, don't trust that this is really it, or are just too scared to say yes; I think that is part of our human condition: when the thing we want most is put in front of us, it is hard to recognize. I have some strange wiring that says I don't deserve this stuff (who does?) and that life is supposed to be a drudging slog to the grave. For me to treat myself to all these goodies I can do brings up a lot of ugly mind chatter, but I know from experience to say yes. There's even a part of me that thinks I'll be "punished" for doing these things for's old programming - and I can ignore it, but at least I don't let it run my life anymore - I did for a long time. And this isn't just about me having a life of leisure & fun, it is more about oiling a machine in my brain that is actualizing me as a person, and being open to the fact that the pearl changes so I have to remain open minded and flexible (I could decide I want a home and white picket fence next week, and have to go through the hard work of making that happen).

The "pearl at any price" (OMG I just googled that phrase and a recent posting of mine came up - wow, I just keep rehashing the same stuff I guess!) is such a strong strong parable for me. I don't know the bible well but I know this phrase is about (secular version) giving up everything for that thing that gives you life. When you start to live it, you see you are not giving up anything. You are just stopping saying "no" to it & surrendering to the "yes." My favorite moment from the Academy Awards this year was when Philp Petit, the subject of "Man On Wire" ran up on stage when that documentary one best in the category. When it was his turn at the mike he said only "yes!" and then did some goofy magic tricks. If you haven't seen this film, it is in every way an example of someone who said yes at the first offering and kept saying it until his life was so damned interesting they had to make a documentary about him. He is like a giddy child that found his pearl early and chased it with reckless, artful abandon. I found my pearl long ago too, and everytime I pay the price of saying no to the negativity in my mind around it, it feeds me in bigger, shinier and in more unexpected ways.