Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life and Fear

Soon I will be driving a farm tractor hauling sleds of fuel and various other materials across the vast desert of Western Antarctica. There will be three of us for the bulk of the journey, adding three more for half of it. I am the equipment operator and there will be two mechanics. In the two field camps we visit, I will be using a track loader to unload and stage various cargo. I have never been to a field camp before, or been on a traverse. I have only been an equipment operator for two months now, and this unique opportunity fell into my lap. I am still a bit overwhelmed by how the track of my life has changed so quickly. I had just gotten used to feeling super confident in my duty fork job (and I had been so apprehensive and fearful about it), and in the flash of a moment I will be doing something totally different. I used to work at a large University where people stayed in the same job for 5, 10, 30 years. I never understood it. I guess if they loved it and felt passionate about it I would understand, but most of these people had settled for security and retirement benefits and whatever dream they had had at one point had been pushed way underground, underneath the daily concerns of bills to be paid, family woes, and domestic routines. Having made the choice at an early age to not have a family of my own, I had the luxury of having only myself to worry about in my decision making about my future. The other day I was sitting around a room with some dear friends from here and one of them said  "....there is no greater thing in life than to find someone who loves you that you can love in return...."  and I immediately wanted to have a discussion with him about it because that might be true, but for some there might be no finer thing in life than to paint every day until they die. Ironically, this gathering of friends was a sort of commitment ceremony that I was having with a man here that I love. It was informal and touching and brimming with emotion - a ceremony in spirit only. In this state of bliss I find myself in romantically I can see that his words are true: there couldn't be anything finer than this! But I also know that sometimes a dream burns inside one so brightly that a choice has to be made, something given up in order to find the pearl at any price. It was never a dream of mine to drive a tractor across Antarctica. I couldn't dream that big. I dreamed of coming here & just doing anything to be here, but never did I think I would be doing something that sounded so....badass...and more importantly: doing something I have no experience or particular gifts in. As the space widens between that clerical worker I was for so many years to the outdoor rig driver I am today, it is so important for me to remember that none of this was an accident. It was all something that was deeply yearned for. I wasn't sure the form it was going to show up in but the universe knew I needed challenges in a big way. I have been so afraid so many times in this Antarctic career: the times I had to operate equipment for offload, the moment after I signed my Fleet Ops contract, and mostly, the first time I came down. The fear bundle that came up after saying yes to the PIG Traverse was so engulfing I almost changed my mind. But I also know how my mind works when some big new unknown element comes in: full on fight or flight mode terror. I know I've overused this example but learning to ski was the most concrete and informative experience I've had in learning how how big and powerful and unreal fear is. I believed the fear. I was invested in it. But when I decided to stop listening to it, my life changed in an instant. My wisest friend said to me once (when I was full of fear about deploying for the first time) that "anything hard is worth doing..." What a beautiful sentiment. In my experience I have found this to be true. My identity as a townie who loves attention and is a fool for dancing will peel away as I plow westward with nothing but flat white and my spinning mind for stimulation. I will go into it with the only attitude that makes sense: it's gonna be awesome.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

who is this?

I don't recognize this person as the me I knew for so long. If someone would have told me 10 years ago, when I was spinning my wheels frustrated in dead end clerical jobs, that I would be forking a  2 ton water tank to a water plant and filling it with water to take to the new Ice pier to flood the bollards, and that I would be doing it with a fun workhorse of a tractor I wouldn't have believed it. I saw a vision of what I wanted to be doing for work here & here is a  photo of it. And in two weeks it's going to be driving a Challenger 55 farm tractor to the remotest site in Western Antarcitca. May not be many post from there....but I'll do a full review from Christchurch in to all my readers!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pine Island Glacier Traverse

It's known as the PIG but it stands for Pine Island Glacier Traverse. It is a long traverse that will go from Wais Divide field camp to Byrd Camp and make a couple of trips to the Glacier. Unlike the South Pole Traverse which has been going on for years, this one is mapping out a new road to a really remote part of Antarctica. And I'm going on it.

All of a sudden my life has changed dramatically after a quick 15 minute breakfast conversation. I was happily doing my dream job as duty fork operator here in Fleet Ops and really enjoying it. Then I was casually talking with a friend over breakfast who is leading this traverse & he said his equipment operator had dropped out and he was looking for someone immediately. I told him to call my boss as I'm sure he'd recommend a good operator, that I'd love to go but was sure I wasn't qualified, but that it couldn't hurt to ask. I walked to work actually forgetting about the conversation and the minute our toolbox meeting was over in the morning my boss called me into his office & had me sit down and said "how would you like to go on a real Antarctic adventure?" I said yes with every fiber of my being, tingling and in shock. Why me? After 6 seasons of hard work and loving the Ice I realized I wanted more and started putting my intention there. When I got the contract in Fleet Ops I thought it couldn't get any better than that. I worked all Winfly helping support Traverse Ops and saw how much hard work was involved in preparing for a traverse. I thought, maybe someday I'll be able to do that...maybe after 5 years or so in the department. But I've only been an operator for 2 months and I get this opportunity of a lifetime. I was ecstatic for a day and then the fears and doubts attacked me yesterday. I started realizing all the cool stuff I'd miss in McMurdo, the fun two day weekends, the bonding I've done with my dept., and especially: Icestock and Offload. I will be leaving on my 50th birthday to fly to Wais Divide. This gift seems oiled into place by the Universe. It's like my blessings were there waiting for me but I just had to wait for them on their time. I did keep putting it out there what I wanted more opportunities to get off station and learn all the equipment. Be careful what you ask for in a big way! It will be my first time on the actual continent.

The irony is that getting something really exciting can feel as heartbreaking as not getting it. I cried all day yesterday and was having buyer's remorse...but after some deep talks with some evolved people I realized I was just going through my usual major life change meltdown. I will be leaving a fiery hot and passionate romance, a cozy room, and a job I love. I've never said the words "having to leave a job I love...!" But this opportunity just fell in my lap & I couldn't say no. It might be hard and grueling and boring at times (the 12 hours of driving days) but it is so different than anything I've ever experienced and so outside my comfort zone and that is what I love most. I love learning my limits of what I can and cannot do. I was so worried about my current job as an operator: that I'd mess up, that I would look like a fool, that I just wouldn't be good enough. I have rocked it. I have done a stunning job even if I'm the only one saying it. It has been incredible. Now I will be sleeping with two men in a berthing raft in the middle of nowhere Antarctica. I still can't believe it's happening. It will be incredible. We are called Piglets...hopefully, we will be the Merry Piglets... ;-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fun Times at the Bottom

Two months into my seventh season on Ice in my new job and all is going epic-ly well and good. Running a loader nine hours a day is hard on my body but I am delighted at how good a job I am doing. My IT feels like an extension of my body as I'm in it so much, but because I can drive it to the restroom (I work in an unplumbed building), lunch and various other walkable errands, I have forgotten that my legs have any other function that pressing pedals. I am so exhausted at the end of the day that I feel I am justified in lying prone for the rest of the evening...but I am not burning a lot of calories driving all day so at the first sign of Carhartt snugness (two desserts a day diet) I went on a walk to Hut Point and came back completely worn out. I could not believe how out of shape I was from doing the thing I can do best exercise-wise: walk all day long. I'm so used to running all day long in Supply and know I was burning my food at Winfly when my loader was an icy 25 degrees inside the cab, but now the only exercise I get is climbing in and out of it and spreading my age, I need more.

We had gotten so busy in our dept. that I thought I couldn't do any more picks that week when I was told I was going to track loader school for 3 days. I was ecstatic! Three days away from my regular job, meeting new friends, learning new equipment, and mostly, letting my body heal from the incessant jostling and jarring my vertebrae go through every day. I love my job but it is hard on my body. I get to train on three different loaders with tracks (I have only operated wheel loaders thus far) so I'll have 3 more machines checked off that I can operate.

I talk too much here. For some reason my brain and metabolism spike up when I arrive here and I find myself acting like a chatterbox doll whose neck string has been pulled. I usually have some "plan" when I get here to be a "different person" than I usually am here as I think I am too mouthy most the time, but it doesn't work. Antarctica does not let me be who I'm not, and she pushes my intensity craving self to its limits. I flirt too much, talk about lurid topics too much, and am just generally, too much I think. But I have a cozy, luscious romance going on right now so I'm purring like a kitten on the inside. It is so nice to have that here.

I love this place. I love this lifestyle. It can be brutal and trying, but living one's dream life involves sacrifice and hard work. And now that I have my dreamlife I can start reaching for higher goals. It's going to be very exciting and delicious finding out what those are...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seventh Season in Antarctica

This will be a short post as my life here becomes one of no free time. I am exhausted, overwhelmed, and happier than I can remember being at work. So far, working in Fleet Ops has been totally awesome, challenging and fun. At the end of the day I am in a daze of being bounced around all day in my loader & never getting warm. I sometimes just move snow for days at a time. My water bottle freezes in my cab, so it's almost like working outside. My co-workers are great and I am utterly saturated in my Mactown lifestyle. I love it here. More posts later.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Collapsible German Building

That is a band name we came up with in the old days when we were sitting around partying after the clubs closed and we were up all night. So 80's. So pretentious. I remember everything about that night...and could have never predicted how the next 30 years (did I say thirty?) would turn out. When the rough patches occur (and boy did I just have one) one's life feels very constricted and small...but in the darkest day before the dawn, and I am starting to see dawn, the innumerable blessings and good stuff that has happened in my life since 1980 seems almost overwhelming. And losing something I thought I really needed leaves a space for What I really needed to show up...

I posted these old photos because I lost my usb cord to my camera and didn't feel like I had enough interesting things to say to have a photoless blog posting. I took these photos back in March yet have been obsessed with this imagery for many years. They were all taken within a block from my apt, and I love them like I love my old paintings. When I started tweaking the color/saturation/etc. I started loving them even more - so that I printed 5 X 7's of them at Walgreens (from my bed in my pajamas) and have them framed and ready to hang. I'd been whining about not having a creative life anymore and had various excuses about why I couldn't do it the main one being I didn't have the space. And one morning I woke up & just did this from bed and saw how fricking easy it was. I also just made some bitchin looking business cards on the web and didn't have to go buy Photoshop(tm) or anything like that.

I will be on the Ice two weeks from tomorrow. My seventh deployment (did I say seventh?). I knew when I got off that plane in 2004 that I would do this Ice thing as long as I could - I just didn't realize how fast the time would fly by. I will have a much more challenging job this time and I am truly excited to be doing something new. A lot of friends I haven't seen in a while are coming back, and I so look forward to that first day hugging all my pals who wintered. It's going to be a very long season, so I'm going down with a fresh mental attitude and my spiritual toolkit that I rely on utterly stateside but rarely pick up on Ice.

I never blogged about Colombia: Bogota was wonderful. My friend Eric was there he was a great companion to me there. Cartagena was magical and beautiful, Tolu paradise, and the rest interesting and beautiful if you can handle the heat. I could not and got deathly ill. Went with a tour group and, unusually for me, did not bond with anyone on it - that was rough, as I'm used to making at least one super tight buddy on a trip. I travelled a lot this off season, but only one trip was magnificent: NYC. The place I've been to the most turned out to be the most is the greatest city in the world, and I bet I'll still believe that after I visit the few major ones I have left.

My Austin time has been a mix of tons of fun, extreme frustration from bordedom and loose ends, and a "shock & awe" style facebook incident that made my ass fall off. That was 21 days ago, and I am recovering...and even looking forward to a new and exciting life of not settling again in certain areas of my life. Since I am turning fifty (did I say fifty?) this year, it would behoove me to conjur up the type of relationships befitting a smart, sensitive and evolved chick like myself. It's time to play big, and enlarge my concept of what I want and what I won't stand for. I made a copper pendant in the machine shop of the Heavy Shop last season and hand stamped it with the words "Never Settle," with a special date stamped on the back. There is an area of my life that I have compromised myself in and have paid a heavy price for it over the years. But I was truly doing the best I could in those moments (years)...but I have an opportunity to do something new. I'm taking my little copper block with me in my to Mactown so maybe I'll heed it's advice.

Oh, and I hope to never take for granted the enormous amount of love and support that is always available to me out there in the world. So many loving friends, family members, my adorable pooch - the clouds and trees and earth seem to support me too. When I just trust in this unbelievably loving force that seems to permeate the universe, what could I want for? As always, even though it may feel like you're getting a barbed wire enema at times, there is one thing for certain: the pain does end, and the puffy clouds that float by and make me feel euphoric remind me that all is ephemeral.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

NYC 2010

There are a few places on the Earth that my soul likes to call home, and one of them is New York City. I fell in love with this town when I first saw the WTC towers out the Eastern Airline window in 1978 (does anyone remember Eastern Airlines?) Having grown up in an insulated, perfectly groomed and soulless Houston suburb, New York explained why I always felt I was not in my true geographical element: I craved excitement, and NYC had a bottomless supply. I loved it so much I moved there after graduating college in 1983, so for a couple of years I got to enjoy the old gritty pre-Guiliani cleaned up city. I lived in Manhattan and Queens in the 80's, but my last three trips have been based out of Brooklyn. I am lucky enough to have 3 magnificent friends who live in this exciting borough. On one trip, I didn't even go into "the city." This time I went several times, but actually found Brooklyn more interesting to explore. Manhattan is obscene now: Times Square is like a surreal futuristic wasteland: zombie-like sneaker-clad tourists hoisting cameras at the over-the-top neon...The Bowery feels like a Vegas strip mall re-enactment of "The Bowery", and the biggest shocker: Lower East Side and Alphabet City: all sparkly. What I remember is Urban Decay -  imagine a scene replete with sprawling alkies, defeated hobos, crumbling squats, blowing newspapers and piled up trash - these were/are the sights that make my pulse quicken. Though it may seem callous to want to view squalor, it exists whether I see it or not, and it always feels like something I needed to see. Plus I used to live right on the edge of the kind of lifestyle that would have me sprawled out on the streets too...I just usually had someone (some dude) steering me back to my house. There but for the Grace of God go I we always say, those of us lucky enough to have quit self-destructing before it was too late. So when I see people living feral lives in a glittering urban mecca, it not so much as a voyeur of schadenfreude as it is a refusal to acknowledge that the gap between us is as large as it appears...but where are these people now? There were Everywhere when I lived here in the 80's - they lived in makeshift villages in the parks & the streets. It's like they were rolled up in a giant carpet and whisked off somewhere as if they didn't have a right to live here. Only rich people can live here! Now, every street, every stoop, every corner, was slick. I went to a show of my now-formerly favorite band on the Bowery, and this passionate performer seemed almost deflated by the Mall of American type atmosphere that infuses the Lower East Side (not to mention that the audience was full of corn fed squeaky clean midwestern types). I mean, I went to a former apt at 4th and Ave D, and it looked like the stoops and streets & sidewalks had all been hoovered as if it were a Disneyland exhibit of "New York." I used to have to step over several generations of a Puerto Rican family whose evening ritual was the hang on the stoop and visit with the neighborhood freaks. There was not a soul sitting on any stoop there. I tried it (stoop sitting) one day at Kate's building and felt conspicuously awkward. The whole island of Manhattan had that feel - that of an exhibit where you can't muss up the pretty street. But I still have to love it, as there is no place like it in the world, but if it weren't for Brooklyn I might be in too much despair over it to ever go back.

My friend I stayed with lives in Park Slope. Another friend lives in Red Hook, and yet another in Greenpoint. I spent juicy, juicy hangs in these neighborhoods with my friends, and explored other neighbs on my own while my friends were at work. Williamsburg was a little like 6th street or SoCo here in Austin, and I was surprised by how ugly the buildings are there. Red Hook and Dumbo earn points alone for the brick streets. Greenpoint has the great views of the city, but it is kind of flat - and everyone there is white. So Park Slope, where I stayed, was the best neighborhood as far as bieng funky, pretty, diverse, and having greenery. I don't really need much "nature" in my travels, but the leafy residential blocks of New York are really spectacular. I also went to Coney Island, but I think that will be a post all its own as I've always had mythic expectations of it.

This week I just spent in New York was one of the best trips I've had in a while - and I think it was mostly because of the quality of my friends there. You have to made of certain stuff to want to live in New York. One friend I've know since we were 18, the other for 20 years, and one is an Ice pal, and we got together in various combinations to eat and laugh and see each others digs. I had the most delicious bar-b-qued meat I've ever eaten at Rich's house, followed by a Marah show in the City. Then to Greenpoint and the Black Rabbit to meet Richard and Aster for drinks, followed by a ribald time at Mrs. Kim's, a supposed "restaurant" where a bartender friend of Richard's wanted to hear Antarctic details. I wasn't good at supplying them (I always want to refer people to the ancient posts of this blog!) but this meeting turned into a sideshow of goofiness upon realizing this Antarctic query session was more a pre-planned hook-up (by Richard!), with more mixed messages and goobery giggling than a junior high dance. It was great fun though, and I met an interesting person who travels MORE than I do! That's the thing about New York: I find myself in a continual state of expecting something cool to happen, where your always meeting super interesting and engaging people who really appear to want to get to know you - even if it's only for a few minutes. I find this quite a bit when I travel (except for maybe like, Greece, where everyone was surly) but especially so in New York. If it weren't for the "Antarctic card," I'm not sure how dazzling I would seem. I pull that one out if I want to get a buzz around me.

The epicenter of this rich and precious intimate experience was K___. She has been a dear friend for almost 20 years and thank gawd she moved to my favorite place to visit. If one were to transcribe our conversations it would fill a small library, and it would not all be neurotic self absorbed shoe gaze monologues about men/work/looks minutiae. That would, in fact, be only a tiny part..because K___ is that kind of friend you pray you have in your life. She is such a good listener that she could charge folks lots of money just to perform this service for them - we talked so much my throat was raw, and even though I was going through the grieving of having just been dumped by my boyfriend of 4.5 years, she made me feel solid, invincible, "resilient as hell," as she's always told me I was.

There is this myth that New York is a noisy dirty place filled with rude and cold people known as "New Yorkers." From my first day there 32 years ago I experienced a helpfulness from people that compares to the Kiwi's level of friendliness. After two days in my neighborhood, the Slope, I was waving at all the pals I'd made at the deli, coffee shop, pizza town, etc. Each neighborhood is a small town, with village style community and sharing of resources. This is the New York I've always known. I live in a town that is described in a scholarly book as a "lonely city" where it is very hard to find community. I have always felt this to be true, though I think you can bring your own loneliness with you wherever you go. I would like to give New York another try. The Ice has some of these deliriously intense connections also - but next summer I might be Brooklyn bound.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Watching Jazz in Antarctica & Memories of The Storm

I recently started watching "Treme" on television and as is typical with most HBO productions, it is an engrossing and well made series. It reminds me of one of the sweetest experiences I've had in my 6 years of working on the Ice: a core group of 3 of us (sometimes as many as 5) would gather together Sunday night and watch the "Jazz" documentary series by Ken Burns. I don't know if it was because of the situation (anything you could watch on a screen is going to capture you more at a tiny research station), or because the 10 part series was just so incredibly interesting and well made - but I found myself looking forward to that two hours each Sunday evening  more than I would look forward to boating opportunities. I felt like me & Ken and Kris (the other diehard fans) were on a gilded raft, floating through an exciting journey on the history of Jazz music which was far more interesting than I'd ever imagined it would be (it's as much a history of New Orleans and race and the human struggle to create). The amount of detailed research and the intellectualism and heart put into this show is astounding. The longer I'm away from Palmer Station the more I realize what a privilege it was to be there, but when I was there some of the personalities rubbed on me like a rock in my shoe...but our Jazz screenings helped my sanity, gave me something to look forward to, and kept me highly plugged into a vein of creativity that I have only had moments of experience with. I didn't know much about Louis Armstrong before I saw this series, but now I know that he may have been the greatest musical artist this world has ever known.

But this show, Treme, reminds me of when the storm hit. Living in Texas I had to opportunity to help out when Houston got too full and folks started coming to Austin. It was so hard to get on with the Red Cross as they were flooded with volunteers, so I just went down to the damned convention center and tried to help with the amelioration of pain that our city was attempting...the donations were bursting at the seams...the volunteers were trying to make the guests from NO feel as comfortable as possible under the horrific circumstances many of them had been in at the Superdome. People got off buses without shoes or hope, and we tried our best to get them the basics as fast as possible: a bed, some food, tons of clothes & personal goods that had been donated. The red cross had told me they did not need me & would call me if my name popped up. They had plenty of jobs at the office on computers but I wanted to be at the convention center...with the people from New Orleans. Each day was dramatically different & things happened fast. Once bellies were full and people were well-rested & medicines dispersed, people wanted to find their loved ones so phone banks were set up and even a job bank was opened for people who were ready to start a new life in Austin. I went down to the convention center on my scooter one day & just said "screw it" I'm gonna get in without an official Red Cross badge - and I did. I folded in with a volunteer group, they put a wristband on me, and I wore it everyday to the Center downtown. My job was to work in the clothing area, where guests (we were to refer to them as guests rather than refugees) would come and pick out garments as they had mostly arrived with nothing. It was fun helping them - and I was ever aware that as someone who couldn't possibly understand what they'd been through, I kept quiet unless they wanted to speak to me. We could eat with the guests so everyday I got up my nerve to sit with folks and ask them how they were doing. I heard some awful stories, and saw some unlikely friendships that had developed through shared tragedy. By the 10th day or so people were partying on the loading dock of the Convention hall! There were some instruments donated & an impromptu dance party had started. Smiles were everywhere...and I began to see how quickly the human spirit can recover. A couple of sweet memories: after about a week of my clothing sorting gig, a lady about my age came up to me & asked if I could find her some sexy lingerie as she had met a man she liked in the camp. She was giggling & embarrassed to ask me, but it was a moment that made me realize that I felt quite privileged to be a part of these people's lives: we were having "girl talk"...and this was wildly different than those first fragile days when folks walked off busses in shock - some so hungry & thirsty & wild eyed it was hard to believe that these people were from a place just a few hours down the road from our lives of relative ease and comfort. We were so aware of the appalling week they had had before arriving, that we only tried to make them comfortable. So to see the smiles & dancing 10 days later was amazing. Another sweet memory is that a friend and I took an AA meeting to the Convention Center. I think we had one or two guests show up...and hopefully it helped. On my last day when I was leaving after my final volunteer shift, I saw lots of guests sitting around the outside of the arena smoking and talking. I rode by on my scooter and stopped to ask them if Austin was treating them well...they said they were overwhelmed by how well they had been treated and LOVED Texas (boy I don't hear that much!). I went back to my tiny condo and realized how blessed I was to have this tiny space that had a soft bed & frigid air conditioning. I had gotten rid of so many possessions when the storm first hit, yet I still was rich in the basics. Interestingly, when I moved all my stuff & my kitty to a friend's house before deploying for my second season on Ice (a couple had leased my condo), the house, containing all my stuff and generations of my friend's family's stuff, burnt to the ground right after my last visit to say goodbye to my kitty. I had been on Ice about a week when my friend wrote to me the news. I sat in shock for a while looking at photos of this big house that was completely incinerated and felt terrible sadness that my 16 year old kitty died of smoke inhalation, and worse, my friend lost every material thing he had (and a beloved old kitty also). For some reason that tragedy passed quickly for me (except that I still am sad when I think about my kitty), because it was mostly just stuff. There's not a single item of that stuff that I miss, and in no way compares to what Katrina did to people's lives, but it did show me my how powerless I am over the random acts of violence by mother nature. Watching Treme has reminded me of that time, when I spent about 10 days interacting with the victims of the storm. I'm not sure how those folks that I had personal interactions are doing today, and I pray they are well, but I know that for me those moments of selflessless felt like the "pearl at any price"...."for it is in self forgetting that one finds...." and what I found was something I'd only ever understood intellectually, but can only be understood through experience: the giver gains as she gives.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Life Not Chosen...

When I am not at McMurdo, or travelling, or on a ski or painting trip I am in that in-between place where I spend vast amounts of time alone, going to meetings and yoga and taking long walks around the lake. It's during these times that my aloneness sticks out as I'm floating in a sea of hand-holding couples, dodging toddlers at the yoga studio (most yoginis I see are either pre or post natal and talk about babies incessantly) or going on a tour by myself in a foreign country, which doesn't seem strange to me at all but I have since found out that people have all sorts of reactions to a woman travelling alone. I've had people pity me (they've actually told me that!), shun me as some sort of weirdo, or fence me off from their geezer husband as in their minds a single middle aged woman must be desperate for a man, any man! I should pity them, with their small minded thinking, but more I just feel lucky that I'm free to do what I want. Sometimes though the cavernous black maw of loneliness will start to suck me in and I can get in a pretty stinky spot with it. I remember once walking alone on some summer holiday & saw families & couples & kids all hanging out in yards having parties, and I had nowhere to go. I spent one Easter in a dark pit, and now make sure I have something planned long in advance for both Easter & 4th of July, holidays I can't stand but can't stand to be alone on. When Will told me that he was going to work in Taiwan for a year I felt a sharp pang of abandonment, like I was being called upon to be more independent than I even want to be. I'd assumed he'd be back on the Ice with me this season, but his glee for this exciting opportunity outweighs my selfish desire to have him with me. And as people are always telling me (and 49 years of experience has shown!): everything is going to be ok. Sometimes there's just so much change in a short period of time that my head spins...but I've gotten used to being on the move a lot, and it suits me for the most part. The common thinking (that was upended in the great film Up in the Air) is that all people need home and family and connection. But there is the sort of person who doesn't need traditional marriage and family and home ownership to belong. Some of us get our sense of belonging by serving something else...I can feel as supported and loved by the Universe in an airport lounge as anywhere else on earth...there there are people all around me who are in the exact same boat: the luxurious boat of limbo, where for some reason my mind seems to process recent events quite exquisitely.

Nuala O'Faolain wrote so personally and intimately about the childfree middle aged woman...especially that pang we can have when we see a mother lifting a particularly adorable child into her arms. I made a solid choice not to have children, but there must be a maternal part of me because I have been enraptured with 5 month old babies on occasion. They usually want me to hold them, which is a great joy to me, as it connects me to a larger part of me (and thus the world) that I am rarely in touch with. This connection is so deep & satisfying and something which I have just moments of experience with. I wonder sometimes how I missed that this gorgeous feeling was why people have families...and for a split second wonder if I've shortchanged myself by not having considered it...but then I look at our vast planet with the hundreds of countries that I still have not visited and know in my heart that I may indeed be missing out on one of the great joys of life by not having had a family of my own, but that the life I DID choose is filled with endless possibilities for rewarding experiences.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Greenberg Problem

Most people who know me think I majored in Fine Art in college because I made art for so long in Austin, but I actually have a film degree. I remember seeing "La Strada" late one night when I was in high school and it had a powerful affect on me. Woody Allen became my muse in the 70's & 80's, and after a rapturous experience of seeing Eraserhead in a hundred year old theater in my freshman year of college, I knew I would try to make films. The technical classes were incredibly challenging for me, but the viewing and studying of film was euphoric. The experience I want from a film is to be moved. I have seen so many great films in my life that I could never see another one, but this posting is about a film I just saw (and walked out of) that had decent critical reviews but was really bad, and bad in a disturbing way. Noah Baumbach's  "Greenberg" is about a self-absorbed misanthropic character who seems to only be taking up space on the planet as dead weight, but is also able to get a halfway decent female to be interested in him despite his histrionics and social phobias. Woody Allen's neurotics are always lovable and hilarious, but Baumbach's just seem petulant (and really, they're dickheads). If a big tornado sucked up all his characters I wouldn't shed a tear, would sigh with relief actually. I'm thinking of those spoiled, no-lifers in Margot at the Wedding, whose crazy making and infantile needs rule the film. Only Jack Black could save it with his one great scene, that almost seemed to be making fun of Baumbach himself. A film is a mirror into the director's soul. Great acting is usually the result of great directing. If a director doesn't have heart in his film, I'm not going to get sucked in. The one exception to that rule for me is Kubrick, whose mammoth genius in his art was inspired by something beyond heart. His films feel cold and misogynistic, but as a filmmaker he is brilliant. I have seen The Pianist three times, a film I consider Art at it's highest, and no matter where one stands on his personal past life, Polanski has a heart and soul as big as the Universe and it shows in his work. I know people who stopped watching Woody Allen films after he married Soon-Yi - but they are missing out on some of his darkest and sexiest work yet. I think Noah Baumbach is considered a good young director and he does have talent, but whatever Gen-X shallow values stuff he is trying to put across is not working for me. Maybe it's personal. I lived like a "Slacker" before Linkater made the movie. I knew everyone in that film. Seeing a new Hollywood film that seems to be almost a nihilistic experiment in studied awkwardness sounds interesting, but let Lars von Trier do that! Don't try and weave it into a Ben Stiller dramcom. Because it wasn't funny when he pushed her on the bed and they had screendom's most depressing lovemaking scene EVER (it was actually "Breaking the Waves"-esque in it's gun-to-the-head disconnectedness). I tried to see the humor in it as I think it was intended to be funny, but I was cringeing, and feeling my feminist ire come up. The girl in the film is so ridiculous as to be a cartoon of a mumblecore posterchild. Her self esteem is so low one cannot understand how she able to hold a job, much less set up singing gigs. I remember when I was an overeducated beer drinking jobless slacker in my 20's...but we had passion and ambition and were intense about what we wanted to do, we wanted out of slackerdom ultimately...why would someone care about this Greenberg character who does not care about himself?

I remember it like it was yesterday: 1982, Easter European Cinema Class, University of Texas at Austin. 6 people enrolled in a class in the largest student body of any college in the nation. We had viewed a low budget Polish film about a stupid girl who does nothing ever but pick her fingernails & has a variety of boyfriend problems. Because I was 21 and the film was in black and white I was riveted, and thought there must be some deep theme - I had to think that as I had to write a 3 page paper on it. The next class meeting we discussed the film, and there was this one guy in class who wore a rumpled suit and was like the character in Henry Fool who played Henry (ahh Hal Hartley - one of a kind: utterly true to his vision), who was the only one brave enough to say what he really felt about the film. Most of us were talking about poverty and communism and existentialist despair when this guy waited til there was silence in the class and nearly shouted "This woman was a worthless character. Watching her was torment - I just felt like screaming at her "do something: read a book, do a crossword puzzle, ANYTHING!..." I don't know if he said anything else but he opened my mind up to the idea that I don't have to agree with the filmmaker. I can look with a critical eye and weigh for myself whether a character has merit or if the director has been successful in infusing them with qualities that make them compelling. Greenberg might be a great character if he had a sense of humor or a heart or some redeeming qualities but he doesn't. He's not doing anything but writing borderline personality type letters to corporations. Not nearly as engaging as a crossword puzzle. My basic Greenberg problem is that precious celluloid (if they are still using that) that could probably be put to good use in some third world country, is covered with Ben Stiller's cave man face & ridiculous "slacker" hair, and purported to be "art" because the director makes quirky films. Baumbach should just join the Dogme Collective & follow the manifesto of purity and not try to portray Greenberg as deserving of our sympathy. "Julien Donkey Boy" was so much less painful that Greenberg. It wasn't self conscious, and didn't give a rat's ass whether you cared about Julien or not. It let you decide, and didn't try to be something it was not. That is not to say I am a fan of Harmony Korine, but at least he knows his characters are unlikable assholes and portrays them that way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Things are Really Speeding Up Here at the End...

Though this top photo might look like a still from a low budget, guerilla improvised version of The Crucifixion, it is just me trying to pick up a tall friend of mine for a photo montage I was plotting called "how to pick up men." (potential title for first photo: "Trace as Jesus being helped down from the Cross"). I noticed a strain in my lower back after my third pick-up, so the montage became a triptych (shown here in rough form.) At 49.5 years old I continually push myself to do ridiculous things (like skiing, for example) to prove that I am not old yet, and this time of year (SXSW) in Austin always takes me back to when I fell in love with this city 31 years ago. South by Southwest is for no good reason utterly complicated now. It is so overwhelming with the number of bands and films playing, that I cannot imagine how a  non-local navigates it. The great secret is that if you have been here forever like I have, you know all the fun and completely free stuff there is to do and you run into all your old buddies and get to slam dance with guys with bald spots, long gray beards and pot bellies. This southby was epic for me. Epic because it was only the second time I forced myself to do the whole 10 days of film and music. I reluctantly bought a film pass & was immediatley glad I did because half the fun of this thing if you spend lot of time alone like I do is that you hang out with people in the lines waiting for movies. Like the tweaky conversations I've had in the umpteen Springsteen lines I've stood in, I find lots of good film-geek pals that I cozily bond with. When the music starts to overlap with the film fest things get really crazy. In a town with no mass transit to speak of, if I didn't have a scooter I probably wouldn't do any of it. Once I surrender to the zone of mind numbing slogging to free show after free show, I am surprised to find I am having fun and that this fun feels Very Important. It starts to feel like the Most Important Thing in the Universe. I end up going home solely to sleep and poop my dog, then back out to see all this raw and stunning talent flailing itself out there everywhere. I stood in rapture watching the Riverboat Gamblers tear up this punk club at two in the afternoon, then hopped on my scooter and raced to see a film about the friendship between Mike Tyson and Tupac Shakur, where the director held a heady Q&A afterwards that stunned us (the whitey-white audience) to silence. I got to see Victoria Williams at a Taco Bar where the PA over her head blared "Number 23, your order is ready" every 10 seconds during her intimate and reverent set. She took it in stride, as I knew she would. Saw new docos on Bill Hicks, Levon Helm, and Jean-Michel Baquiat. I ususally don't view non docs at film fests, but the some of the narrative features I saw were stellar. They were: Lebanon, PA; Mars; Winter's Bone.

Oh yeah, and I saw the Gourds too.

(an aside, working on the triptych: I thought of titling the second photo "Me and My Mexican!" or "I Found/Stole Me a Mexican!").

(and the third picture: "Worth killing for, Worth dying for, Worth going to Hell for!")

So, as is my blogging custom, I am going to wring out of this experience it's deeper significance for me. For someone who used to have a lot of "scarcity" thinking (refer to 80's new-agey texts for "scarcity complex" thinking explained) as I did, it is a little frightening to surrender myself to one joyous experience right after another. It feels like I haven't earned it, and that I should have to "pay" somehow for all this joy with some future drudgery or pain. I used to let myself see one or two bands during the whole festival, and spend the rest of the time at home sort of worrying about the time in between - I seemed to need time to stare at a wall between times of having my mind blown. I was open this time to the possibility of having continual fun and it happened on a fairly regular basis. I used to think I was supposed to suffer! Is that what those 16 years of hangovers were about? I had so much fun the night(s) before I had to make sure I paid by horking my guts up for 47 hours. Because my life has been consistently filled with deeply fulfilling experiences for about the past two (or maybe six) years, I have had to come to the realization that there is no price to pay, there is no shoe that is going to drop, and as the old saying goes: the sun shines of the good and bad alike. Being sober 17 years has given me many gifts, but the longer I stay sober the more interesting and subtle the gifts begin to be. There are people in my life who say on a regular basis to me "everything is going to be okay" and "everything is always ok all the time" (I really like that one). Bruce understands when he sings "it's okay to have a good time" in one of his songs, so he must know how hard it is to give oneself that gift. It seems startling to me now the importance I used to assign to worrying. I think if there is a hell, it is made in the six inches between your ears. It is difficult not to see that the world is a wonderful place when passion and creativity exists everywhere all around us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Final Scenes from Mactown

The perfect tractor to have my name on it. And a beautiful scene from my window a la "American Beauty"

The grittiness and austere bareness of the town is what is most compellingly beautiful to me about it. Its lonely feel & detritus covered landscape make me love it like a scruffy unloved dog. I wish I knew how to line up this typeset with the photos!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Farewell Mactown...

See you in six months!

My last night in Mactown was a perfect representation of why I love this station. Live bands filled with friends & familiar faces playing fun dance music for hours. It always takes me straight back to college where I spent 4 years going out & dancing to punk bands several night a week. People seemed to be having so much fun, and as so many of us are leaving today it felt relaxed and like a great big release from an exhausting season. That was the word I heard most about people's season this year: exhausting. The station had so much work to do and was so shorthanded in my department that I felt tasked almost to the breaking point. I went into autopilot at some point in the season & hit the ground running every day at work - didn't let myself pause to feel my tiredness...went home & powernapped for 15 minutes - went to the galley for a long leisurely dinner...then plowed through a long Saturday night after a full day of work & never slept in on Sunday. Sleep deprivation was just something I got used to and saw that I could function on. I had two days in a row off and have been off for another day & a half & I can feel my sore & broken body & mental exhuastion setting in. I yearn for LM Gould style sleep again!

In the "be careful what you ask for dept," I asked for something I really wanted and got it. I signed a contract to be an equipment operator in Fleet Ops next season. I am thrilled, nervous, perplexed as to why they would hire me, and hoping that I can rock the IT28 again like I did 2 seasons ago. Not only did they give me contract for exactly what I asked for, they were excited that I asked, made things happen fast so I could get a contract quickly, have been extremely welcoming and appear to be terribly excited that I am "moving up the hill." (Fleet Ops is a bit up the hill from the Heavy Shop, where I worked this season). I wonder, have they ever seen my operating equipment? They probably can see me in the Pickle running around all the time...but they seem to have confidence in me enough that I didn't have to drive around & show them that I can operate an IT (the loader I'll be living in next season)...I guess my supply/offload experience is good enough. The really exciting part is that this could open doors for me as far as doing exciting stuff on continent. I have been in a dead end dept. that does not get to go off station or fly to field camps and barely gets morale trips for everyone. I couldn't believe my ears whey my new boss was telling me that as soon as I'm comfortable I can train on the Challengers & possibly go on traverses in future seasons. Now, I've spent a big part of the past 20 years trying to figure out how to channel this strong ambition I have always felt into getting an exciting job...and it seems like it's finally happened. Someone reading this or who knows me might think that my life is exciting enough as I have chased my goals fairly relentlessly...but I always wanted good pay with a job I loved, and that has been one of the major frustrations of my, at nearly 50 years old, and spending so much time & money on trying to figure it out, preparedness has met opportunity; and as is part & parcel of this process, the fears are coming at me in many forms (not being a good enough operator, I'm going to drop something really big & everyone's gonna see it, I'll cry and everyone will see I'm not tough enough!). It's so interesting to watch the mind go crazy whey the daimon finally starts taking what it wants. This is a big leap for me as far as proving myself at work. I'm lucky to be one of those people who is always on the hunt for a different job and won't settle for something "cushy." I used my bitterness towards my current dept. to propel me to find something better (to their credit, Supply is a great dept. for a few seasons - you get to learn lots of great stuff & have a fun job filled with variety-I am just done with it). I love working in Antarctica and I was afraid I would not be able to find another job here I would like or a dept. that I could be qualified to work in. I just went and asked for exactly what I wanted and got it. Another example of the adage of 90% of success is just showing up. I saw the long timers in my dept. and did not want to be one of gets me into trouble sometimes but I have always wanted bigger & better - and I had felt the rustlings in my soul of desiring a challenge at midlife...contrary to what society has told me about the invisibility of the middle-aged woman, I have this to say to menopause: bring it on. I'm not gonna stay indoors and knit, I'm gonna go drive tractors!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Couple of Pix from Icestock 2010

New Year's Day is always the best day at McMurdo. Here are a couple of photos of me & my good pal Kyle dancing away in the warm summer of Antarctica

Monday, January 25, 2010

About to Pop Out of the Egg

My life here is so insulated and I am so hyperfocussed on my tiny universe here that I sometimes forget that there is a "back home." Even though I love my home & family & can't wait to see them, my life here is so surreally interesting that I like to sometimes not even enter the off Ice world (by telephone). My routine is my god, and it guides & protects me. Near the end of season there is so much to write about but so much that can't be written about because this is such a small community. I felt the need to post as this blog has been neglected and I need to ping my subscribers...but this will be a letdown for someone craving information. I am here, working my arse off, thriving in the "cold" (I'm usually too warm), being energized by the busyness, agog at the parties, lying prone on Sundays attempting to "rest." It is the crazy yet dull world of a 6 day grueling workweek at a mancamp, but when the camp decides to let it's hair and guard down on Saturday night, it's a much needed release. I have had a great 6th season, I suppose I'll return - I have no idea what else I would do with myself. This lifestyle satisfies on a deep level that nothing else I've ever tried has come close to. Certainly it is filled with it's share of petty grievances and letdowns. I see that I need to be sensitive to those having a hard time. I am being so socialble that I don't have time to go too inward as I do back home...back home: what does that even mean! When I'm off Ice this feels like Back Home...and Palmer felt like going to some unusual relatives house that I barely know. This place feels a little shallow whereas that place felt too deep. A deep that wasn't the sort of deep that I like to live in, but a deep that challenged me too intensely. Here I can let it all hang out. There I couldn't. I feel so old and so young here at the sametime. It seems I've inserted a rambling diary post into a blog format. Sorry for that! If anyone's reading: I love you and appreciate you & hope you are well & thriving. I certain think I am! And I perhaps need to dissect what I mean by "thriving" - but that will be a long winded, sprawling, and hopefully epic post that I will be able to do in my solitude in New Zealand (and then, Hawaii :)). Forewarned is forewarned...!