Friday, December 31, 2004

Nerds vs. Islanders

I made an interesting connection while talking with people after Thanksgiving dinner. We were in an old goat shed that had been remodeled so that the floors were tiled with terra cotta and the ceilings still showed the original beams and roofing. The walls were plastered and it was brightly lit. I was talking about how elements of life out here would never have been dreamed of in the culture that I grew up in. So many people here have built their own houses with their own hands. So many people use outhouses or have no bathrooms at all. So many people use wood stoves to heat their homes. So many people have water catchment units to provide most of their running water. So many people garden and can and dehydrate and that is their main food source. Sp many people use the barter system whenever they can to get what they need. So many people spend so little of their lives working for money.

That is the essence of the difference of life out here compared to the life I knew in the suburbs. In the suburbs, people work and earn money that they spend on providing the essentials of life for themselves. Here, people try to spend as much time as possible providing those essentials of life for themselves, so they do not work as much. In both places, some people work to live and other people live to work. Essentials of life are food, clothing, housing, warmth. When I lived in Westchester, I paid people to clean my house and mow my lawn and shovel my driveway. I picked up dinner on the way home from work. I shopped a lot. I worked sometimes 60 hours a week and that gave me a salary that made me comfortable enough to hand that money over. I’ve been aware of that mentality because I work about 38 hours a week here and that seems like a lot to most people. I work that much right now, because I do not feel comfortable having less than that amount of money in reserve in my bank account and I have rent to pay. I do not have the time to cut my own wood to heat my house, so I will be hiring someone to do that for me this winter. That is also seen as odd to a lot of people here. I see it as a slow transition. I am attracted to the do-it-yourself lifestyle choice of the islanders because I think it may be more satisfying to me. There is less distance between me and the essentials of life. Mrs. Jakalski taught me that when Voltaire ends Candide by saying, “Come, let us cultivate our garden,” he means much the same thing.

This leads me to the connections I made between the known and the unknown. I do not know this island life. I am learning it. I do, however, know nerd sub-culture. I love them. Most of you know this about me. From Ben Merbitz and Eric Dahl to my ex-husband, I have attracted nerds and have been attracted to the weird little lives that they lead. I was telling the group at Thanksgiving dinner about a guy that I was friends with who makes his living off of Ebay by buying role-playing game paraphernalia in bulk and parceling it out for profit. He was so successful that he was able to move out of his parents’ basement and get his own apartment, which seemed to lead directly to getting a girlfriend. It’s the Nerd American Dream. Bill Gates would be proud. The added bonus to this story is that all of this success was possible from money earned – not by selling his soul and giving up all of his free time – but by immersing himself in something that he loves: games like Dungeons and Dragons. And, he really only has to work 15 or 20 hours a week. I think Alan said, “Wow, that sounds just like my American Dream.” There is the connection between the known and unknown.

Alan lives in a house that he helped his friends build while they are in Florida buying and repairing a boat that they will sail back here. The house has an outdoor shower and no bathroom. An outhouse is available for bowel movements and that waste is turned into fertilizer. Since urine added to the mix makes that process difficult, one must use the great outdoors for urinating. The water for the kitchen is supplied from catchment tanks and the heat is from a wood-burning stove. I’m not sure where the electricity comes from, but he’s looking into installing solar power. He also has a trailer with no power or water that he is going to haul up the hill to the top border of the property so that sometimes he can hike up there for the night so that he can sleep within sight of a beautiful view. He’s looking to buy or trade for this trailer that Jeff has so that he can build another little portable house, like a gypsy’s trailer. In the summer, Alan is a sea kayak guide, which he loves, and then in the winter, he works no more than 12 to 15 hours a week building his own business of taking care of people’s property when they are off-island. This lifestyle in uncannily like that of my former friend’s. The only difference is that nerds can’t really leave the power grid. Other than that, there are striking similarities:

- Both sub-cultures are outside of the mainstream. You could not plop the members directly into the suburbs without causing a situation somewhat like Edward Scissorhands.
- Both islanders and nerds will eschew both hygeine and fashion in pursuit of their respective goals.
- Both groups are dominated by men. A saying here is that when women first arrive, they look around and say, "The odds are pretty good here." After awhile, this reverses itself to,"The goods are pretty odd here."
- The men in both groups are often not interested in the few women that are involved since the women tend to be a little more masculine and can eschew both hygeine and fashion as well. This is a little less prevelant on the island.
- Both nerds and islanders tend to have trouble with authority figures. General examples include the hacker phenomenon for nerds and the blatant marijuana culture on the island.
- Members of both groups are usually pretty fanatical. Moderation is not a word generally associated with someone who eats only organic foods, composts everything and uses his own shit in his garden. LARP is a well-known acronym for live action role playing: enough said.
- Time alone is key in both worlds. Writing code takes hours and hours of trial and error to learn. Building all of the essentials of living in the wild is not a quick or easy process. Simply building the fences for the garden or digging the outhouse is lengthy.
- Both sub-cultures have gathering places for the anti-social to occasionally interact with others. Renaissance Faires, conventions, Barterfest, and Phish concerts are popular.
- As aforementioned, both islanders and nerds have an intense desire not to work but are usually fairly industrious.
- Sub-cultures generally have a jargon or shared inside knowledge. While any nerd can laugh at a story that involves a clumsy elf, he won't recognize the humor in a story about a raki master losing his focus.
- Generally, both nerds and islanders are called to their lifestyle from a very early age.

So, what have we learned from all this? Well, I am comforted that some of my old experiences are valid in this new adventure. I also reinforced to myself that I have a lot to learn yet about island life because it was easier to come up with examples for nerds than for islanders, even though I know that the general comparison was true. IT further refines the mission for my time on Orcas.

Stunning poetry

Many of you know that a man named Vance Gilbert is one of my favorite performers ever. Apparently, while I've been doing my Walden-thing, he has come out with both a DVD and a new CD. Daniel was a great brother and got me both for Christmas, plus he downloaded a CD of one of Vance's concerts at Schuba's that both of us apparently missed. At two previous concerts that he and I attended, I was reduced to tears by the utter poetry of the song "Unfamiliar Moon." For awhile, he did not record it, because he was trying to get a pop singer to buy it. Therefore, when he sang it at concerts, I could not sing along in my head and got to be struck by the words as fresh and new. While the version on the new album is lovely, it is missing the stark simplicity of the live version, which is just voice and guitar and performance, which always brings out nuances of emotion, especially at a Vance concert. As he says on the live disc, "A Vance Gilbert concert is like the elusive butterfly of love. Good luck." I thought I'd share the words with you.

Unfamiliar Moon
from Unfamilliar Moon
Unfamiliar moon
Stars are out of place
Everything is new
Everything is changed
Like a baby child
Just has to cry
When he sees it for the first time
And he don't understand
Now that there's no you
Everything is new
Like this unfamiliar moon

That can't be our song
Those aren't the words I know
The melody's all wrong
But the DJ says
"That's just how it goes"
Like a child has to learn
On his own
You get too close to a bird
And she'll be gone
Now that there's no you
Everything is new
Like this unfamiliar moon

This can't be my house
How can this be home?
I don't recognize it
Each step to the front door
Is higher than I've known
It's like climbing up a mountain
'Cause now I climb alone
Now that there's no you
Everything is new
Like this unfamiliar moon

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What do you do for fun around here?

Being in retail positions, I have recently been fielding a lot of questions from people around my age that are visiting the island about what it is like to live on the island. I find this to be a lot of fun. I usually give them a brief run-down of my personal history with the island that goes something like this, "Before I say anything, let me first explain that I moved here about four months ago from the suburbs of Chicago." And they say, "Chicago! How did you get here from Chicago?!?" So, I do a little explaining about the anonymous suburbs and needing a change and falling in love with the island after visiting because of it's really dominant sense of community, plus, it's just incredibly gorgeous around here. Then, I answer questions about what's different here than other places because I have that neat newcomer perspective. Often, the conversation comes around to the opening question. The answer, as clichéd as it may seem, is that we make our own fun, especially in the winter. People create events. I thought that for my own sake and for yours, I might list the events that I've attended so far, starting with the most recent.

-Orcas Choral Society Concert featuring Vivaldi's Gloria
-Potluck soul food dinner at Charles's apartment. Charles runs the take-out Asian food place, so soul food made everyone stretch a little. I took cornbread.
-Artisan's Faire
-Happy Birthday Holly and yea-for-you Rhonda potluck dance party at The Grange
-Happy Birthday Bridget and porch-warming. I sang all of the words to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" around that campfire, leaving the poseurs behind in my lyrical dust.
-Thanksgiving potluck
-Good-Bye Malcolm party at Alan's
-Rachel's baby shower
-Community Halloween Dance at the Oddfellows Hall
-Pre-Halloween party at Callalloo with reggae-funky band
-Various Sauna Nights at Alan's


It's interesting to look at several works of art from the same person and to find recurring themes or types of characters or colors or moves. Once this happens, a signature is created and that person's personality becomes a part of the art. Think of Bob Fosse, chairs and well-placed sequins or Hemingway's barely-there use of language. On Aaron Sorkin's two TV shows, The West Wing and Sports Night, one can see some obvious passions that sneak through like powerful women, nerdy but cute guys, and people walking while they talk. He has also written a character in each who is fascinated by the weather: Sam Seaborn to some extent and Jeremy Goodwin to an extremely dorky extent. I would be interested in speaking with one of them now so that they could explain this freaky weather that exists here on the island.

Let me explain: both today and yesterday I have been walking around town wearing just a wool sweater and possibly a pashmina. That's all I really need for casual walking from place to place. There was a little spitting rain at times and some wind (they all seem to think it's a lot) but not enough that I needed my rain jacket. When I realized this, I started looking around and realized that almost all of the flowers still had blooms. Geraniums, daisies, even roses. Most of the plants have fall evidence, such as the ripening hips of the roses, in addition to the budding and blooming flowers but I walked by a lilac bush today and it looked like a spring bush with all new buds covering it. It's phenomenal. Now, of course, some days it's colder and I need to put on a jacket and certainly I want lots of layers if I'm going to be out for any extended amount of time but it hasn't frozen once here. Jeff is still harvesting kale from his garden. It certainly does not feel like Christmas is next week. Of course, it doesn't get light until after 8:00 in the morning and it's dark at around 4:00 in the afternoon. But, my boogers aren't freezing and I don't have to put on a hat, coat, scarf and gloves to get something out of the car. It's kind of neat.

Don't ask me why all this is like this. It has something to do with being in the rain shadow of a mountain and being surrounded by water, which warms the air. That's the extent of the explanation that I can offer you. If you want more, you'll have to turn to Sam or Jeremy.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Is this what the founders intended for the Grange hall?

This past weekend was the Artisan's Faire at the Oddfellows Hall here on the island. Basically, all of the local artists set up little funky booths (more artistic talent in their displays than in one of my thumbs) full of their stuff and so that islanders can shop locally for Christmas instead of giving their money to the great maws of Wal-Mart. I got to walk around, engaging in a little retail therapy and also getting ideas for what to make for my Christmas presents. (In all fairness to myself, I do try to buy examples of the ideas that I steal.) And, let me tell you, if there is anyone out there who has ever felt envious of my crafty ability and somewhat dexterous fingers, I'm not worth it. I am a rank amateur next to the talents that exist on this island. If I wanted to be fancy, I could call myself a dilettante, but even that word doesn't communicate the wealth of artistic training that I lack. So, I ended up with some beautiful hooks made by a guy that I didn't even know was a blacksmith but who I see at the Exchange all the time; some ceramic ornaments because I'm always a sucker for ceramics; a beautiful little pin that was hand-drawn by Maria, the partner of the guy who started the Exchange; the cool-beaner bookmark that is further building the desire within me to decoupage; a leather wristband from the same lady (she used the scraps from her hand-made books); and three way-cool magnets that Janine (pronounced Yuh-neen) gave me the secret how to make. Now, you'll just have to guess what's for whom. Last Wednesday, there was a porch-warming birthday party at Bridget's house that she built out of a gazebo kit. While there, we were invited to another party on Sunday night. That's the party that I started this blog to tell you about. (It was a similar party to the Halloween Dance, but I never got that one typed. Maybe I'll go ahead and give it to you out of order later.) Basically, two of the women that had booths at the Artisan Faire rented out the old Grange meeting hall (which is slowly being converted to a neat theater/dance hall and which I had visited earlier in my stay for a six-year-old ballet recital of international dances) and hired three DJ's to throw a Artisan's Faire blowout potluck dance party. It was Holly's birthday and Rhonda had just secured a 5-year lease with right of first refusal to renew on a prime piece of farmland where she is going to start a permaculture farm. The invitation flyers were all different with neat images and funky phrases, but lacked a time or date. Those were then spread by word of mouth. :-) They wanted to celebrate so they decorated the hall with tea lights, beaded plastic silver garland (as part of the tea light centerpieces), blue tincture glass bottles with wildflowers and mismatched vintage-like cloth tablecloths. I took the apple dip that my Aunt Janice taught me with six pounds of sliced apples in lemon juice. The last time I took that for someone's birthday at Glenbard, people ate the apples but not the dip because the dip seemed too unhealthy. Here, they loved all of it, which amazed me because it's one of those one-cup-of-everything housewife dips. Here, I guess those kind of Betty Crocker things are a novelty. They asked for $5 at the door, on your honor, provided Wizard of Oz stamps for you to prove your honor and everyone came. Almost all of the people that I am starting to get to know through Jeff were there and some new people whose faces I know from the stores, too. No one got babysitters and all generations were represented. After dinner, there was enough space on the hard-wood dance floor and even the 18-month-old understood that you just have to move to the music. It wasn't even incongruous that people sang along to the original "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge / we're trying not to lose our heads / uh-huh, uh-huh, ha" since I bet that most of them learned it, like I did, from the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature or as a part of a study of Afro-Global music. The whole evening reinforced to me that this island IS the community I've been looking for.

Grandma wins again

When I was eight, my Grandma Murphy tried to teach me to knit while we were on vacation at Sleepy Hollow in Michigan. We decided upon a sweater vest of alternating stripes of black and white. It was a perfect plan in that it was fairly simple but allowed for some creative input from me. Plus, since it was the Eighties, a sweater vest was not quite so dorky as it sounds now. Of course, my childhood lack of an ability to finish what I started unless it was a book (piano lessons, collecting erasers, cross-stitch of Grover, a complicated plan for keeping track of how many times I had seen movies such as Star Wars and Caddyshack) interfered. I still have the remnants of that project in a plastic shopping bag hanging from a doorknob in my bedroom. The black and white acrylic balls of yarn and a 12 inch by 18 inch square of stripes are all that remain. When it bacame obvious that I wouldn't complete the sweater, Grandma asked for the needles back.

New topic: For as long as I can remember, Grandma has stated that when Grandpa died, she was going back to the Lutheran Church. She always insisted that she only attended the Presbyterian church for his sake. Plus, she would remind us occasionally that the Lutheran cemetary would always welcome her when the time came. The fact that after anyone sings the first line, "A migh-ty for-or-tress i-is our god," any Murphy can sing, "A bul-wark ne-ver fa-ay-ail-ing" is testament to the tenacity of her belief. That song (words and music by Martin Luther) is her only request for her funeral. However, my grandfather died last New Year's and Grandma, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to darken the doors of the Danville Lutheran Church.

So, what's your point, Rebecca?

I have begun knitting a hat and have joined the Lutheran Church here on Orcas Island.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Things here are at coasting level. I'm sleeping in much later than I want to because the light stays dawn-y most of the day when it's rainy, which it is quite a bit. I suppose I could set an alarm, but where would the fun be in that? I was yucky sick last week, which actually worked out for the good because it made me stop freaking out so much that I need to fill all my time with meaningful experiences. I HAD to just sit and do nothing much for the better part of a week. Now, Jeff is sick and I spend a lot of time doing nothing much to keep him company. Of course, low and behold, some interesting things have happened over the last week and a half. I was involved in two committee meetings AND I'm planning (not much work actually) Thanksgiving with another girl out here. We're gathering up the loose ends without family for potluck T-day. One guy is bringing a leg of lamb, I'm bringing cookies and everyone else will bring various weird-o vegetarian side dishes. I hope they use lots of cheese. We'll also bring our own dishes and silverware. A new experience in itself. Back to the committee meetings. One was for the Orcas Center for Performing Arts Youth in Theatre committee and one was for the Exchange. I'll be attending my first show sometime this weekend as the kids will be doing a production of The Last Flower. I have no idea what it's about but I wish my head wouldn't think, "Maybe I can get a script for Speech out of it." I'm thinking a little bit about auditioning for Romeo and Juliet but I'm not sure I'm ready to commit that much time to something. I've already volunteered to help coach people to really understand their lines and to deliver them slowly. Maybe that will be enough. So, to summarize, illness has caused some of the angst to dissipate, leaving actual life in its place. Who would have thunk it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Social Butterfly

So, I get invited to a baby shower, which I was very excited about. I was a little uncertain about what to bring since value systems are so different here and there isn't even the option to have a registry anywhere on the island. Also, I had already brought a onesie and matching hat and booties for Rachel when I first arrived because I was getting rid of that baby clothes collection I had been accumulating in the house in Westchester. Plus, I was invited by word of mouth, through Jeff, so that made me nervous that I didn't have all the information. But, I didn't want to go empty-handed and I didn't know if a plate of cookies would be welcome or not. So, I made some cutie little wire-wrapped dolls with wool clothes and acorn caps that look like the family.

So, I'm all set. I'm going to spend time with just girls. Jeff is nice and all but he's not a girl and sometimes boys just won't cut it for social satisfaction. It's a totally different conversation when it's just girls. So, I figure this will be my chance to charm the women of the island and actually get to know them with an identity as something other than Jeff's girlfriend. Of course, though, there must be some dramatic irony involved because it's my life.

I lose my voice that morning.

I am relegated to waiting for them to show interest in me and then answering questions about complex social histories and belief systems succintly with the most simple words that can be lip-read. So goes my life.

I was lucky in that they did ask good questions and since they were women, they could infer a lot. I couldn't charm them with my witty observations during the present-opening ceremony, but the lesson of today's story is that my illness probably saved me from myself in that area because those social contributions would have probably been conterproductive to charming most women since I have a 55-year-old, somewhat brash sense of humor, which can rub people the wrong way because it just doesn't come off as age-appropriate when people don't know me. (I'm sure that comes as a shock to most of you.) It was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting, with great food. Girls! Yea!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I lay in bed, still unable to sleep and think that if it weren’t for phone calls and emails, I could easily believe that my life before moving out here never existed. I mean, was I really that girl with the long hair, pulled back on top with a barrette, wearing jumpers and colored socks with European shoes? Did that first year of my marriage, when everything was full of potential and we wrestled on the couch while he tried to pick my nose or touch my teeth and we had people over to play games in the basement, did I actually live that year? That girl and that life could so easily be stories told to me. But here I am, in a house alone, a woman with short hair, in an extra-large T-shirt and my underwear, trying to fall asleep with a profound sense of disconnection all around me. I have done this before. The walls here are blue. They have been white with orange curtains when the same sense of wrongness kept me from sleeping. For as much as I have sought to have a life without roommates, I am not really supposed to be by myself. There should be someone else in the other room, at least. Nothing was more natural than sharing a room – my life – with Susan, with Dennis, with my family. Madeline L’Engle writes in her published journal about continuing to be every age that one has ever been, all at the same time. Of course, Esperanza in her House on Mango Street says the same thing. But I can’t be. How could that innocence possibly be something that applied to me? I have short hair. I can barely even remember my fierce homesickness of two weeks ago, much less creating rules to games with Daniel, of winning a speech tournament or the thrill of captivating teenagers with, of all things, facts and ideas. Calling Daniel from my bedroom while Dennis waited downstairs to tell him that Dennis wasn’t sure he wanted to be married to me. Waiting on the front steps with a glass of orange juice for Jennifer to come over after Dennis didn’t stay - just one more night, because we’re friends - like I asked him to. Telling my parents when they came home from vacation. All of these things seem to have happened to someone else. That girl with the long hair and big beads. When did I have the courage to tell my coach that those 10-year-old girls were making fun of me and that he needed to stop them? It didn’t seem like courage then. It just needed to be done. When did I have to audacity to berate Malcolm for allowing a football game that was boys-only? It didn’t seem like audacity, either. All of those are just stories I tell: memories of emotions and situations captured in words. They are too removed from the actual experience to be real or true. I could go on like this, sleeping or not sleeping, here in this empty trailer, forever. Stasis. Fugue state. Whatever you want to call it. There is nothing I want. I am not afraid of the consequences of my actions nor do I look forward to them. There is immediacy to my identity? life? experience? consciousness? that is missing all awareness of the past and focuses simply on the moment. All sorts of philosophies and religions point to that as a good thing but I hate it. I speak in the past perfect tense. I have been a writer. I have been married. I have been a bead artist. I have been a singer. I have been a teacher. I want to be all of those girls that I have been. I don’t want to be this woman who doesn’t know what she wants, where she’s going, what she believes or even that belief makes a difference. I am a woman who doesn’t have any hobbies, for God’s sake, only skills. I have no passion – for anything. That is not the Rebecca that everyone knows. If I’m not Rebecca . . .

As I write that, I am sobbing. It is possible that I am being affected by the fact that the sunlight is completely gone by 5:00 here. Seasonal affectation disorder is a medical reality. I haven’t really slept in two days, going on a third. As I go back and edit all of that, I am sniffling. The written communication of emotional irrationality that I am refining bothers me somewhat because I know it is contradictory within itself and also contradicts what I actually know is true. The reality is that this is a necessary stage of transition. I will find a purpose and I have chosen a good course to do so. All of this identity-searching is just so much angst. I like my short hair. The excitement of engaging high school students is terribly vivid; I just haven’t thought about it much while being out here; it’s out of context. Emerson says that consistency is the “hobgoblin” of little minds. I always thought that was bunk and somewhat indicative of laziness, but it’s not. We wouldn’t be human without the conflicting duality of what one’s head knows compared to what one’s heart is certain of. Communicating all parts of that human condition and doing it accurately, using aesthetically pleasing technique is an art to work towards. Whitman existed for that purpose. But I am not entirely comfortable with it. I would prefer that no hypocrisy go out into the world from my confessions. However, it is honest. I feel that extreme sometimes. As much as I want to belittle my sense of lost identity once I’m done crying, I did actually feel that way for a moment. That side of this adventure story deserves to be told alongside the inspirational revelations that are brought about as obstacles are overcome and nature is engaged. Otherwise, the narrative lacks verisimilitude. It would be a story where everyone conveniently ends up with someone to love and no one had to stop to go to the bathroom inconveniently on the entire quest.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I repeat, I did not die

Sunday, I went hiking with Jeff and hated almost every minute of it. I’ve been bugging Jeff to take me hiking because I have some sense that it is an essential part of this whole outdoor experience of living in the Northwest. So, we set out to reach the top of Mount Pickett, which sounds like we’re heading into a Shel Silverstein poem. It did not turn out to be a very long trip because Jeff wisely realized that we would need to start small. However, during the initial climb when my legs hurt, my heart raced and my lungs constricted, it seemed like we might be out there forever and that I would certainly die before we reached the end of the trip. But I kept trucking through the tunnel vision that was tucking itself into my brain because that is what one is supposed to do. Every story about the girl with 14 toes who finished the race 13 hours behind everyone else tells us that. Plus, I knew a little secret. I wouldn’t actually die.

When I was sixteen, I hiked into Canyon DeChelly (pronounced DeShay) with my youth group. I did not die then when I had to hike back out in New Mexican arid heat, wearing nothing on my feet but wigwam socks and yellow Converse with red laces. That time, my father and my brother Daniel talked me through the tougher moments to make sure that I did not die. Needless to say, all the pictures of that trip were taken at the beginning of the trip on the way DOWN.

Also, I did not die the one time I tried to swim across John’s Lake with the rest of my extended family. They did it every night of the week that we would spend at the Johansen’s lake house in Wisconsin. I don’t know how I ended up in a family of athletes. Two of my dad’s sisters maintain ridiculously high metabolisms and their children have inherited it. Once, when tubing down a lazy river (an activity that, by it’s very definition, requires relaxation) we ended up at the take-out point over an hour early because they got bored and decided to swim and run the muddy bottom instead of dawdling at the Turkey Run river’s speed, the speed of nature. At one point, Jake, the four-year-old, was pulling at least three adults, including my mother and I. So, when I foolhardily joined them in the swim across the lake, still, I did not die when that now familiar tunnel vision eliminated everything from my field of vision but the Boston Terrier, Dinkens, and my parents encouraging me and piloting the rescue boat behind me while I did the backstroke. I did, however, require a ride back to the other side of the lake. Although I did reach the far side of the lake rather than giving up in the middle, I think that rather than having been inspired by the 14 digits of the aforementioned little girl, I was more daunted by the idea of getting my body up into the boat without something from which to push off.

So, even when I started to cry on the middle of the trail up, I had a legacy of not dying behind me to keep me going.

Luckily, Jeff heard that my heaving intakes of breath had changed rhythm and become ragged. He’s so good. He stopped and held me and didn’t ask me to explain myself, even though the only way I could verbalize my despair was to wail, “I want to go home!” before I dissolved into weeping. I’m not sure why my sense of imminent death prompted my homesickness to surface. I think my emotion logic went a little like this:
- I’m going to die while hiking.
- OK, I’m not actually going to die while hiking.
- So, it must be that I’m not actually enjoying myself while hiking.
- If I’m not enjoying myself while hiking, then I must not be cut out for life in the Northwest.
- If I’m not cut out for life in the Northwest, what in the hell else am I supposed to do?
- I don’t know.
- I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I have no purpose to fulfill yet.
- So, if I'm not here to fulfill my life's purpose, I might as well be where people love me.
- I want to go home!
Of course, I know that life at home in Chicago where people know me and like me anyway is less likely to reveal a long-term plan that will ultimately satisfy me. I know that the challenge of a different culture is the water that I waded into so God could trouble my water. That is why I moved out here after all. So, I knew that my little scene was inspired by the stress created whenever one is faced with the potential of meeting Death (without the chess game).

So, after the tears and snot slowed to simple seepage, I removed a layer of fleece to cool down, drank some water and walked in front for a little while so Jeff could keep an eye on me. It was still hard, but we rested more often and it got a little better. I actually began ignoring my physical heart as Jeff suggested and started looking around me. Here is what I saw:
- Two pine trees that looked like something out of The X-Files. Sap ran down the outside like icicles from lots of little holes. Each stream was a separate color, from shades of whites to different ambers. The overall effect looked a little like the stalagmites in caves. I did touch one and had sticky fingers for the rest of the hike that Jeff dodged successfully.
- A fallen log looked like it had tiny little holes drilled into it and then someone put tiny twigs that were smaller than the holes into the empty space like flowers in a vase with that absorbent foam at the bottom to keep the flowers from leaning against the sides.
- A stream coming down the mountain that disappeared. We went off the trail to investigate and it seemed to just sink into the ground at some point and then come out later on down the way. It was like the Red Line as it goes under State Street.
- Another stream that was so lovely that I drank out of it, so I could say that I had drunk straight from a mountain stream, just like the characters in my books. This was despite Jeff’s warnings of Djardia, which seemed to me grossly unfounded.

Then, of course, just as everyone expected, I was taken aback (literally, I stepped back) when we broke out of the forest to a clearing near the top and I could see what seemed to be all of that side of the island, with little farms and the quilt of their lands plus the ocean and Cypress Island and the Peapods, which are all islands that I see when we go kayaking. We sat and ate some apples and it was beautiful. This is where I learned my lesson. This is the moment like the Mysteries of the ancient Greeks when I came out of the tunnel into light and attained understanding of why people hike. Because it IS hard and there IS a pay-off. One does not find much more satisfying than that, especially when you don't die in the process.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

When you look good, you feel good.

Today, I look like I live in the Northwest. My mother has attempted to assuage her grief at my absence by buying me things, especially outdoorsy things from the Sierra Trading Post. (That’s an unfair assessment of my mother for the sake of a catchy opening. I’m sorry, Mom.) For my birthday, she sent me a Marmot brand Pre-Cip rain jacket. It has all sorts of features that used to sound like gibberish to me such as taped seams, pit zips and Dri-Clime chin guards. However, now that I’ve lived near the ocean (which creates wetter wind than Chicago) where it rains while you’re doing things other than getting in and out of cars and buildings (umbrellas not so convenient), I have found that all of the neat features of the jacket are actually applicable. It’s fun. Plus, it’s a nifty “margarita” green that matches my wardrobe color scheme. So, I’ve been wearing that everywhere. Then, today, my boots arrived! I actually asked for these because I have rain boots and I have gym shoes but I don’t have shoes for, again, extended time spent somewhere other than in a covered structure while it’s wet. So, I searched the Sierra Trading Post website because Dad likes their corporate commitment to Christ AND they have great deals so both parents win. I found the perfect water-proof nubuck hiking boots from The North Face and my mom added them to my birthday present. So, today I am wearing my tan suede boots with soft grey and blue highlights, my faded Gap Long and Lean jeans that I bought for $20 this summer (which, by the way, my brother Daniel covets), a grey wool cardigan sweater from the Exchange that is that perfect type of shapelessness that looks so effortless on fashionable people but that I have never been able to achieve on my own, my dark spring green pashmina scarf that Mom brought me from Italy wrapped several times around my neck loosely and over it all, my margarita jacket. If I had a pair of dangly silver and semi-precious stone earrings, I would have been mistaken for a native. But, my ears get infected easily, so, I have to settle for horseshoes and hand-grenades.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Audience Participation

I just found a really kooky suggestion in the blogger site that I think I'd like to try with you all. (This is a little like my college radio show when I had no idea that anyone at all was listening except for my father when I sent him the tapes.) It said to ask my readers for three pictures of things that they would most like to see. However, I don't have a digital camera, so that won't really work. (The picture of me as a barrista is courtesy of David Ludwig, Jeff's dad.)

So, because I'm getting a little tired of reading my own ruminations, I'd love to get some input from you about what you would like to know about what it's like to live on an island in the Northwest. Or what it's like to be doing something totally new. Or what it's like being away from my family and friends. Or what it's like to live in a trailer. Or what it's like to live so close to the ocean. You get the idea. No question is too mundane.

Post the questions here on this site by using the comments option on this or any of my previous entries. I'll be more likely to respond in a timely way. Then, comment on the comments if you want to. We'll start a [french accent] salon of sorts. It'll be fun!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I am officially a barrista. It's like Daniel and I switched lives! He's doing his student teaching and I'm making coffee. Ha ha. Posted by Hello

Monday, October 18, 2004

What, are you dumb?

So, I'm a little impatient. Big deal. So, I expected to start this new type of life right away. What's so wrong with that?

Well, as usual, my emotional logic lost out. I was starting to feel all uptight and antsy because I was homesick. I started complaining to myself and to Jeff that life was not interesting enough. I spent too much time at home. I'm not doing anything here that I couldn't do in Chicago - with my friends and family nearby. (Did you catch that? That was the give-away that I'm just crazy-talking. This might be coincidental, but Jeff's parents were just here to visit from Glen Ellyn.) I mean, working retail, going to church and setting up an apartment: what could be more mundane than that? There is nothing distinctly Northwestern about that. Plant a couple of fir trees and hang a couple of Native American totems randomly in Lombard and we're set. They don't even have a funny accent here.

OK, cut it out with the sarcastic tone. I'm stupid. All of the previous statements are ridiculous and I'm fully aware of that. But a few days ago I wasn't. So, I'm sharing the progression of thoughts with you.

Number one: of course it feels like I'm just doing what I've always done with no new experiences. I'm doing what I've always done. But, the part that I forget is that now I'm doing them by myself, which I haven't ever done before. For instance, I'm cooking for myself. Yes, some meals are macaroni and cheese but tonight I made soup. I meant to make navy bean soup, which is my favorite but was missing some vital elements so ended up with this funky Italian tomato pinto bean soup. MMMmmmm. The other day I made my very first apple pie with local apples picked from someone’s backyard. I used Grandma’s recipe but put lard back in where she has switched to Crisco. Also, mmmmm. Not bad for a girl who lost all of the cooking supplies in the divorce. But, I'm not totally alone. Jeff taught me how to light my stove so that it actually created warmth and not just smoke. He also reassures me that the noise my car is making is just fine and that I'll be able to fill the tires with air by myself just fine. When I feed him some of the soup tomorrow, he'll tell me it's good, regardless of the truth. He ate most of the pie. He takes me to do things that are distinctly non-Chicago, which leads me to point two.

Number two: I AM doing things that I couldn't do in Chicago. Why my very-smart brain thinks otherwise is more than my fancy degree in English can tell me. Yesterday, I went kayaking and we must have ended up in the ocean cafeteria. Bonaparte gulls were swirling and diving and when they dove a seal head would come out of the water and they would all fight. After awhile, four - count them - four eagles joined the swirling but they were much bigger. While this was going on, I happened to look down into the water on the other side of my boat and a baby seal came up from under me from way down deep, looking at me the whole time, to play with the eddies that my paddle was making. He just touched the top of the water with his nose and darted away. He was closer than any animal at the Shedd aquarium could ever be. After the kayak trip in the blustery weather was outdoor, swimsuit-optional hot tub and sauna with a gorgeous view of the ocean. It is a phenomenal experience to sit mostly bare in the cold fall wind off the ocean when your body temperature is enough to keep you warm. Not a lot of places to be naked outside in Chicago. (Grandma, forget you read that.) On a different note, I got paid 8 bucks plus labor for my Illinois license plates by a local artist. Actually, he handed me a ten-dollar bill and asked for change. He had promised me lunch at a local place, Chimayo's. I guess $8 was the equivalent. Finally, I sat watching a rerun of The West Wing that I had never seen before, eating slices of nectarines that I had bought a month ago in bulk at a fruit stand off the highway on the mainland. When they were ripe, I sliced them all up all by myself and loaded them into the dehydrator so they would keep. Candy was not sweeter than those round orange and red chewy fruits that I had preserved completed on my own. Although I’m not going on hikes and campouts and being invited to big hippie blow-out parties, I guess that the time that I’ve gained from working retail instead of a job that requires passion and the emotional energy that I can keep for myself instead of feeding it into kids is spent on these small new encounters. And that’s exactly right for a month and a half. Jeez.

Monday, October 11, 2004


So, I’ve just finished my first workout at the Curves knock-off on the island: PACE. I’m a little ashamed at betraying my loyalty, but it’s all there is. So, in case there were any doubts, let me reassure you, it sucks. Oh, I’ll keep going but it is vastly inferior. The machines offer less resistance and are harder to get in and out of. The staff have no training on how to instruct people, although they are very nice. No one made me stretch, the cue is set for 41 seconds, there is a stationary bike as one of the machines, every other rest and recovery station is a step aerobics step and THERE IS NO SQUAT MACHINE! I can barely feel my workout. Working on those feather machines is like the difference between a professional massage and having a friend who just pinches at the surface of your skin with his or her fingertips. No satisfaction. So, thanks Wendy, for making me a snob for a place that is well-run and focused. You’ve ruined me for anybody else. :-)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

A pug's life

Daniel has a baby friend named Henry who is 18 months old but who looks like a three year old because he is so huge. Henry is one of those personable babies who loves everything he comes into contact with but does not necessarily have the fine motor skills to manipulate the world yet. It’s delightful to watch him stumble around with a huge grin on his face. In fact, sometimes he gets so happy that he forces the edges of his mouth out while sticking his lower jaw forward, which has the effect of making his neck tendons taut. Then, he pulls in air through his throat, leaving his vocal cords closed, making a sort of groaning zombie-like noise. This display indicates that he is super-happy and the sensation of it makes him smile so big that he has to stop doing it in order to laugh. I’ve been watching a video that my parents taped off of Channel 11 called A PUG’S LIFE and the sight of all of those pugs and their smitten owners has made me nearly as happy as Henry. But, I think it’s possible that I’m a little more emotional than I give myself credit for lately since the documentary has made me cry as well. Once, on the segment about the pug rescue organization, a new owner was discussing a dog that was “the saddest pug the organization had ever seen. She just sat in the corner of the room depressed all the time.” The new owner just wanted to try to make the dog happy. The idea of that pug being so sad just resonated with my own homesickness and I cried. So, I got up, turned off the TV and went down to the beach for a little while. Then, I needed to sort the socks, so I turned the tape back on. I was happy as Henry again as they showed the art gallery owner who admitted that he couldn’t get the dog to do more than sit, either. Also, the woman who said that pugs are completely loyal as long as you are feeding them. And then! They had a section on owners remembering their pugs that had died and I was gone again.

At some point. my life and my emotional status will be stable. Until then, you’ll find Henry and I sitting on the floor, playing with Retha, making crazy zombie noises and laughing while she tries to jump up and lick our faces.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Stoner admirer

On a side note, I got hit on pretty hard by this stoner guy the other day. When I asked him why he was on the island as he tagged along on my various errands, he explained that he had grown up there but when he went out to travel the country after graduating from high school, he got a lot of speeding tickets that he thought he could just ignore as long as he didn’t go back to those particular states. So, he’s home until he can pay all of that off. Let me tell you, I was truly tempted there for a minute. :-) After telling me that Rebecca was a pretty name, he asked if I had a boyfriend. When I explained that I did, he asked if I “thought he would keep” me. He wrote out his name and number while waiting for me at the post office with lots of doodles around the info. Then he asked if he could walk me to work. Today, he came into the convenience store, asked if the coffee was fresh and said he would try the Homegrown Market when I answered that it was probably about 4 hours old. No sense of recognition in his tiny little scrambled eggs brain on drugs. Sigh.

Maybe funny, maybe not. But, by now, I see him all over town and he treates me just like I'm someone he has known forever and maybe doesn't like because I got in fight with his girlfriend when we were in high school together. He also has asked me questions about things he thinks I should remember because he has mistaken me for the other people that work in my stores. It's a new experience for me.

Basic update

I've been taking advantage of these two weeks while Jeff is gone to really get settled in my trailer. It's stressful, like everything else, but also satisfying to see my stuff in a new milieu. The inside of the trailer is butter yellow so all of my red and light blue stuff matches. I've hung my fairy curtains across the sliding glass doors that are the entrance to my house. It's definitely a change from the crappy blue sheets that were there previously. Unfortunately, with Jeff gone, I'm also getting a chance to feel homesick and a little (actually, a lot) lonely. I wish I were one of those people that found comfort in late night cleaning frenzies but after dark, the most I can do is crafts with the TV on. Otherwise it's books. I have just reread Neal Stephenson's SNOW CRASH but have been strangely reluctant to start anything new. I put books aside because I know I'll like them eventually, but can't summon excitement now. However, I have not yet felt a need to reread all of my adolescent sword and sorceress series by Tamora Pierce. I see that as a good thing. :-) I should have telephone on Friday (after three calls to the local phone company) and so blogs and personal emails should get more regular. Right now, I am kind of catching time whenever I can on other people's machines. So, I'm not feeling very clever or adventurous right now but I wanted to update those concerned about the goings-on here. I wish I were a little more inspiring. I did acquire a stoner admirer, which is a mildly funny story. I will copy/paste it out of an email that I sent in the next posting.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

'Cross the Mersey

Today will be dubbed "Surreal Ferry Day." I rode a total of three ferries in four crossings. Let me tell you the story:

Actually, it's not a story, because most of the elements of literature are missing (i.e. character development, central conflict that gets solved, witty dialogue). All it really possesses are a beginning, a middle and an end. The story (not really a story) opens at the ass-crack of dawn, since Jeff is really anal about getting to the ferry really early to be sure that we get a spot. So, it's 6:00 in the morning and he's bugging me to speed up and I'm refusing because it's early in the morning and I'm feeling obstinate, plus, any time I deliberately speed because I'm late, I get a ticket. Immediately following this interaction a huge think fog falls down on us and it's all I can do to see the lane lines. Jeff - almost as immediately - admits that the fog must be punishment for trying to get me to speed. There's a reason that I like him. :-) So, slowly, we make our way to the complete other end of the island, where everything else about that ferry ride is fairly normal. Once we're on the peninsula, we drive to a different ferry and get in line to pay for our passage. The line isn't moving well since there is only one checkpoint and this, of course, is causing Jeff's knee to bounce like crazy. I should insert here that I was taking Jeff to orientation for a 9-day kayak trip that he was leading for teenage boys in rehab. He really wanted to be there on time and rightfully so. As we are sitting on the side of the road, waiting, we see a guy pull up to a checkpoint in a golf cart. "This is not a good sign," bemoans Jeff. I pooh-pooh him as a nattering nabob of negativism (was there ever a time in American politics when this phrase WAS taken seriously?). Of course, right at that moment, the guy walks up to our car to inform us that the ferry that was going to be leaving in the next half hour was fogged in and would not be leaving for another 2 or 3 hours. Now it was my turn to admit karmic responsibility. So, we walked on the beach for awhile and found a cute little seafood place for some food. (Finally had the Ivar's, Mom. It was OK. Nothing like Malnati's in Lawndale, though.) When we finally got onto that ferry, a guy is on the passenger deck giving a full-on harp recital, with commentary and all. He was a regular Bobby Short.

So, I drop Jeff off after deciphering some terrible directions (50 feet was actually 10 feet; landmarks were simply not there; forks in the road were actually intersections). Then, as I'm headed to my third and final ferry, I realize that although I work in a used book store and although I rarely go anywhere without a book, just in case, and that this habit has been present since I was 7 or 8 years old, I have no book for hours of ferrying that I have yet to do. Panic and self-flaggelation ensue, but karma gives me a present in the form of a used book store. It is also surreal. It's got a full section of well-displayed metaphysical instruction books from multiple decades, shelves upon shelves of vintage Playboys, several racks of 1940's pulp fiction with steamy cover art and the kooky woman who talks to herself about how funny the movie BIG is while I'm looking around. I find a pristine copy of SNOW CRASH, which I've been meaning to read again, anyway, and I'm out the door.

I guess the third ferry is fairly uneventful, except for the guy that wore a full-on Saturday-night-at-the-club-in-a-shiny-black-mock-turtleneck and hit on me because apparently, walking by him twice while looking for a seat indicated interest. Also, apparently, pick-up lines are too strenuous for him because after exchanging basic Hi-how-are-you conversation, his line was, "What's your name?" all Joey-like. I smiled and walked away.

The fourth and final ferry ride back to Orcas was the most eventful. As I'm pulling off I-5 at my exit, I've got 20 minutes until the ferry leaves. Normally, I wouldn't even consider it since the ferry landing is 17 miles away. However, Jeff and I accomplished just such a feat last weekend, so I think I'll give it a shot. But, traffic going that direction is actually gridlocked at the light at the base of the exit, so I give up quickly, knowing that a Target is nearby and that I have a new apartment to equip. After a satisfying trip to Target, I head out to catch the 8:35 ferry. Although this ferry is very heavily used, again, only one checkpoint is being used, and I don't even reach it until after the boat is supposed to leave, although that does not seem to matter since the boat does not leave. After I pay, a woman puts a piece of paper under my windshield wiper after asking me which island I'm going to and directs me to lane 5. THIS IS THE LAST INSTRUCTION I RECEIVE ALL NIGHT! Normally, the attendants act like ushers in church during communion, dismissing lane after lane of cars when it's time to board the ferry, then on the boat they point you to your spot. So, at 9:20, I see cars starting to move and everyone disappears from where they were hanging out in the parking lot. However, my lane doesn't move. Finally, the guy in front of me pulls out of our lane (ack! rules!) and heads toward the ferry. I figure he's getting out of line, because he and his wife had been calling for one of the teenagers that belonged in the car and never came back. A guy behind me gets out of his car and walks up to my window to tell me that I should follow the other guy because the other cars are all empty. "That's the way it works," he adds at the end. So, I look around and half the cars are abandoned. I still have no explanation for that. So I hustle and I am the third to last car on the boat. I get a half-hearted point from the attendant and that's that. As a side surreal moment, at Shaw Island, an attendant got on the intercom and yelled "Willie Smith! We're at Shaw Island! You need to wake up and get off the ferry! We will not be coming back!" He then wished Willie a good weekend a few minutes later, so I guess we can assume that Willie did make it home. So, I read my book and when it's time for Orcas Island, I get in the car and prepare to go. The same thing happens as before. The people in front of me aren't going anywhere and many of the cars are empty. Well, my heart is beating fast. They start announcing again that this boat will not be returning to Anacortes and I am in a full-fledged panic because there are still 5 cars in front of me and no one has come back to check. The woman behind yells at me to turn my engine off and I realize that I have to do something. So I squeeze out of the car (of course, they had made me park right next to the big junker truck) and sprint for the front of the boat, waving my arms like an idiot. My father would have been proud. Luckily, the guys were very cool and acknowledged that things had been screwy in the parking lot. So, the announcer comes back on the intercom, reads off the cars that are in front of me and we all wait. While waiting for everyone to come and move their cars, even the announcer apologizes and tries to explain that the ferry normally runs much more smoothly. Finally, the guy in the grey, no, silver Civic wagon shows up and I can finally start my 45 minute drive to the other end of the island and home.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

My hair is frizzy!

How in the hell did that happen?!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What was that college degree for?

I have three jobs, all of which are in or near town. The first, and most exciting, is at the used book store! I work for this little crazy lady named Jane who is very smart. very political, very business savvy (she was once an accountant) but also very unfocused, with no sense of sanitation. When I started working at Pyewacket Bookstore, I spent the entire first day (8 hours) cleaning up, which meant picking up all the books off the floor or from on top of chairs or all over the front counter. Also, you could not actually get behind the front counter since Jane and Gretchen (the other employee who only reads metaphysical books and has trouble alphabetizing) got to the point where they were simply throwing garbage on the floor and not picking up notes, books, flyers or anything else that fell there. They must have been somewhat careful with food because I didn’t find much more than lots of dusty cashews, thank goodness. I’ve been getting a lot of strokes from the regular customers about how good the store looks. So, I worked there Monday-Thursday of last week; the last two days were on my own and I got to read for much of the day since Jane didn’t get me the materials I needed to reorganize the rental videos, which is my next project. Overall, I like it very much. The second job is at the Exchange, which is on Fridays with Jeff. I think I explained that to most of you when I came back from the first trip. Email me or leave a post and I'll elaborate if you need me to. I get to meet a lot of people there and have gotten some really neat stuff. Yesterday, we accepted a 9 foot couch that was all funky (stylish not smelly) and were very excited until I realized that it would not go in my tiny trailer of a house. I try not to take more than I need right now, so I don’t get burdened down with a lot of stuff again. But, I have acquired an entire kayaking outfit of name-brand outdoor clothing that actually has quite a bit of style. Finally, the third job is at a little convenience store type place that is shifting from being a convenience store to being a hoity-toity gourmet food store that specializes in Northwest wines. I started that yesterday and the two people that work there seem really cool. My mother is so proud that now I can earn up to 9 dollars an hour! I acknowledge that it might be hard for her to see me headed in what seems like a backwards direction, but I’m trying to explain that it’s like pulling the toy wind-up car back to go forward. She gets it, I think. She's pretty cool that way.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


During my walk with Braxton down to the beach this morning, I noticed three different types of mushrooms: a bright orange tiny sea anemone-type cluster of 7 that were smaller than half of a dime; a cluster of white, chalky upright ones that were no bigger than a pen-cap; and some large, classic a-smurf-lives-here ones that were the color of pancake batter. It rained last night and although I’ve used the simile “like mushrooms after a rain,” I don't think that I have previously observed the phenomenon in real life. Once down at the beach, I found empty oyster and crab shells and probably 15 lion’s mane jellyfish beached at low tide. The sun was beginning to shine across the water and all the trees on the islands were bright colors of green. My friend that recently uprooted herself and moved to Georgia says that sometimes she just needs to sit in her rocking chair on the porch and just watch the world sometimes when the inevitable hardships of the transition are getting to her. I’ve been struggling a little with actually noticing and reveling in this world out here because I’m somewhat bogged down with getting a place to live and a job. (Done!) Plus, I’m sometimes just not being home is really hard. Going down to the beach is a little like sitting on my rocking chair on the porch. The climb back up is a bitch, however. It puts the trip up to the mess hall at Camp Stronghold to shame. Canyon DeChelly in New Mexico was nothing compared to this. Much of the time, the incline is at a 45 degree angle or less to my upright body. Actually, at the times I notice the angle, my body is usually bent over, trying to catch it’s breath. So, I didn’t notice much on the way back up until the very top, when I saw more mushrooms; these were like those ferocious snapping turtles with spikes all around the shells and a very mottled brown color so it blends in. Rock, rock, rock.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Good in Bed

I just finished reading a phenomenal book called GOOD IN BED by Jennifer Weiner. I started it Saturday night and spent all Sunday morning in my robe, tucked under my down comforter (because it’s a little chilly on this part of the island), finishing the book. I cried through the entire last third of the book. (A fact that my little brother will snort and shake his head at.) In the book, the main character is being complimented for her screenplay. She is told:

“I loved that your lead character has such faith in herself. So many romantic comedies, it seems, the female lead has to be rescued somehow . . . by love, or by money, or a fairy godmother. I loved that Josie just rescued herself, and believed in herself the whole time.”

I loved that the author had the audacity to write about her own writing within her story. (I think I remember that as reflexivism from my Postmodernism class.) My generation and possibly the rest of the modern world is told to “Be yourself” but we are still taught not to talk about it, really. Some element of Puritanism or Victorianism tells us that it is impolite to crow about our own achievements, especially if they are internal. But, this woman tells us in dialogue what we should love about the book because it is what she loves about herself.

I got through this last year and a half by believing in myself. I’ve had tons of help but in the end, I couldn’t have done this without believing in myself and in the fact that my choices were good because they were based in a worthwhile existence. And it is not done yet and while I am still knocked down by how hard it is, I get admiration from people (who are knowledgeable enough that I respect their opinions) because I don’t pretend like I didn’t get knocked down and I don’t pretend like it isn’t hard to get up but I pull myself up anyway . . . eventually.

The book is truth. The author oh-so-accurately depicts that the ending of a romance, especially a romance that you were pretty sure was going to last forever, sucks long past the first couple of months. It sucks well into the next stage of your life in lots of unexpected ways that you hate to foist upon anyone else but you find you have to because your only other option is to disappear into some oubliette of a status quo, solitary life. Leo McGarry in THE WEST WING described his divorce, “Because we loved each other and it was awful.” I thought that was the best way to say it then, and this author captures Leo’s words with the confrontations that happen in Cannie’s head and the silence that actually triumphs in the actual situations. She says that living without him sometimes feels like living without oxygen, which is the perfect metaphor because she is still living.

The book is a coming-of-age novel in a new world where studies are beginning to show that most Americans believe that we aren’t really grown-up until our late twenties or early thirties. Just like Huckleberry Finn and Scout discover that there is true evil in the world that has no solution except individual action, Cannie discovers the hurt that we cause each other simply because we are human beings and fallible and that the solution is to learn to love ourselves and to keep loving others as best we can.

In addition to all of that smushy feel-good sentiment, this book made me laugh out loud at Cannie’s sarcasm and tiny little dog. Read it if you’re looking for something to read chapter by chapter in this new school year. It doesn’t have and doesn’t need all sorts of “literary” levels and symbols to tell my story and the stories of lots of women I know. Thanks to Susan Simosky and Heather Yerrick for their recommendations that I read this. Jeff says that the Exchange is a magical place because the solution to most questions or problems are usually found because you trip over them or they fall on you. God put this book in my hands through the Exchange as my catharsis to move me out of my transitional funk and get started on another experience.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Safe and Sound

I’ve just gotten back up the hill from my friend Jeff’s beach. He had a full kayaking trip today, so I couldn’t go with. That was actually kind of fine with me. I spent most of the afternoon with a trashy fashion magazine. However, realizing that I had to do SOMETHING, I took his dog Braxton down to the beach to spend a little quiet time with myself, just like the Dalai Lama says we all should.

I’m still in a little bit of recovery mode, which is a statement that my brother Daniel scoffs at. But I am! We left early Thursday morning on schedule and arrived at Jeff’s house on the island at 11:45 on Friday night. In case you’re counting, that’s over 2,000 miles in two days. My brother is awesome: he drove most of the time, kept us on track when I would have dawdled and asked me if I was OK whenever I got too quiet and cried.

We drove through Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho on our way to Washington. We pretty much stayed on I-90 or I-94 the whole way. North Dakota was gorgeous with straw yellow field and cornflower blue skies and big clouds with flat bottoms that looked 3D, rather than the usual painted backdrop. My mother was born in Dickinson (we drove through) and spent happy childhood summers there and I like seeing that it’s beautiful, too. In a beautiful rest-stop in Montana, we saw a fully bowed rainbow behind us. A new covenant.

Yesterday, all three of us drove down to Seattle and spent the day exploring there. We wandered around to find the U-district, which was OK, but ultimately found the Fremont neighborhood, which showed signs of gentrification, but had all sorts of cutey little shops that I wanted to look in but the boys had no interest in. When we walked around the Fremont market, I didn’t give them a choice: I just stopped. :-) It didn’t seem to matter if I told them I was stopping or not, they figured that I wasn’t there eventually. One vintage clothing vendor told Daniel that he would sell the shirt that he was wearing (Guns and Roses concert tee) for $75 if he had it. Glam Dan’s got style and he knows it. :-)

Ultimately, we walked around Pike’s Place market at the end of the day. Lots of the shops in that area are full of overpriced used stuff and buy-and-sell jewelry or trinkets made by child labor in some third-world sweatshop. Ugh. However, just on our way out was a little stand by the flowers of these wonderful little creatures that were only half an inch to 3 inches big. Totally fantastic and completely the product of this artist’s imagination. I love buying things from the actual people that made them! So, I found this little goofer guy with big ears that I’ll hang from the bathroom ceiling when I get an apartment. Overall, a successful trip to the big city before I abandon civilization for awhile.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Packing to leave has caused me to think about at least two distinct social stages in my life when things were crazy busy. Recently, I really did think that I would be able to vacate my house all by myself if I just kept at it. How wrong I was. I would have had to be working every spare moment for the last month to have done it all myself. Needless to say, that did not happen. The 26th just seemed so far away! I did little things, working for an hour at a time before getting distracted by some project of leisure. I would watch whole DVDs of The West Wing and The Gilmore Girls at a time. I was confident that at some point a natural instinct of urgency would take over and banish this overwhelming procrastinating state of avoidance that I was in. I forgot that my whole being is still in recovery mode. It's only been a year and half since my husband left; I had a crazy school year, working 60 hours a week for 5 months of it; I got fired for no real reason and then had to work for 3 more months with that hanging on my shoulders while I struggled to remain professional. I was going to work two part-time jobs this summer before I knew I was moving and my friend Gigi looked at me and said, "Are you going to take ANY time to rest?" I'm glad she said that because I didn't take the internship even though it seemed like good experience.

So, this recovery mode, combined with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to go but not wanting to leave combined with the fact that I've never actually moved myself before (I actually have managed to stay mostly absent while my stuff was packed and moved for me) made me pretty slow moving even when I did get started. So, thank goodness I have fantastic friends. Elena, Susan and Sue have spent a lot of time doing grunt work so that I could focus on sorting things out. I'm sure it doesn't seem like that big a deal to them, but I realize that to get the same amount of work done would take at least twice that amount of time. I don't have twice that amount of time anymore!

Opposite of this experience of lots of friends helping to get a major task done, which requires me to be the anti-micro-manager, I was reminiscing with Camilla about planning my wedding. Within 6 months, I got engaged, graduated college, bought a car, moved out of my mom's house (was moved out of my mom's house), started work in an urban high school and planned a wedding that involved a lot of do-it-myself aspects because I had a budget. My colleagues tease me about making ridiculous phone calls two weeks before the wedding during lunch. "Oh shit! I need an organist!" "Can you tell me if I can order Leonidas roses AND daisies?" I remember being at the reception hall with the caterer at 8:30 at night and saying, "Can I leave you guys to finish this up? I need to go for a dress fitting." Camilla lived over an hour away! So, I wouldn't be home and in bed until like 11:00. Then I would be at school at 6:30 the next morning. I did everything myself and didn't even realize that it was a lot of work until I've looked back on it.

I like that I've experienced both of these styles of intense projects. I'm amazed at how providence seems to cover both of them. All of these people just showed up without my even asking them to help with vacating the house. I didn't even know I needed them. And I was so young when I was planning the wedding that I didn't realize that I should be overwhelmed. Life is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Dug-Out

One of the really cool unintended consequences of leaving for the other end of the country is that I’ve gotten to spend some really enjoyable evenings with old friends. We all get so busy here that it’s easy to go weeks and (ack) even months without spending actual look-into-each-other’s-eyes-and-laugh time together with the people that are important. So, we’re all really motivated to do that before I go and it is really wonderful. We even stay up late like we’re young. :-) Last night, I was at Emily and Joe’s really neat house in Oak Park. They bought an extremely ugly, poorly-taken-care-of house, gutted it with aplomb and promptly painted the dining room red. The parts that are done look phenomenal and Joe continues to be a great cook. We’re all different kinds of teachers, which makes for shared passions and Emily and I went to elementary, junior high, high school and college together, so Joe does a nice job of looking interested when conversation goes that way. Two bottles of wine, some Miller High Life on ice and a few glasses of water finished up a fantastic evening.

Two nights ago, the ninth-hour teacher ladies all went out to dinner, which accomplished similar feats plus beautiful Noah, the giant personable baby.

Three days ago was lunch at the Earwax Café with Mark, when I got to see his stunning wedding pictures (which accurately reflected his moving wedding) and have the high level of intellectual exchanging of ideas that I’ve come to expect when Mark is involved. One of the added bonuses of being friends with Mark is that he has a good science fiction side to him, as well as an ability to process social phenomena. The café had a poster for my brother’s show that’s he’s headlining tonight at the Double Door (call me for tickets if you want them). It’s cool to see that someone besides my family actually knows Daniel is famous.

Last week, I spent an evening at Bill and Ruth’s house, who are the people that I worked for at the Renaissance Faire. They are in their 60’s and 70’s and have this incredible wealth of life experiences and a house full of gorgeous, whimsical art. Camilla and I stayed until 1:00 in the morning and I fully believe that Bill and Ruth could have gone longer. I would like to be them at some point in my life.

Add to all of these experiences all the time that I’ve gotten to spend with Camilla, who is finally home from Penn State and getting her Master’s Degree in Costume Design, for at least a few weeks. Also add the time with Elena, who’s at her own exciting and painful transition point in life, Jimmy John's with Carrie, post-modernism with Dan (blech) (the postmodernism, not Dan), an amazing evening with Steve and Maria, their beautiful daughters and delightful guest with connections to Orcas (why didn't we do this earlier so we could do it more?) and the phone calls that have been coming in. The joke has been made that Rebecca sees all of her friends twice a year, whether she needs to or not. :-) Although I think this is accurate, I’m glad that my friends have realized that right now, I need to, and have put aside their busy daily lives to open themselves to me like we’re college freshmen, discovering all of the ideas of the world for the first time because we don’t have a curfew.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Butt on couch

So, I’m totally paralyzed in the packing process. I had several spurts of productivity over the past few weeks, especially before my house went on the market, which got the closets cleaned out. I also got three shelves of books packed or sorted into piles (books I teach from, books to take, poetry/drama, books I don’t want). Of course, that leaves about 15 shelves and that brings me back to packing paralyzation. I hate packing. I did not actually move myself the last . . . well . . . ever. So, I’ve read two brand new magazines that I bought at the store. I’ve caught up on two of the three subscriptions that I get, I’ve watched A LOT of The West Wing and The Gilmore Girls and generally centered my life around the couch when not completing clerical tasks (arranging to shut off utilities, change of address, etc) or going out for the last time with various friends. Retha, my dog, likes this very much since she pretty much does nothing but sleep when left to her own devices. So, I’m not packing because most of the stuff that I intend to give away on Saturday is on the left hand side of the garage and I seem to need everything else. It’ll get done. I have faith. Really. Plus, Susan and Elena are coming out early on Saturday to help me set up, so I can dash around frantically finishing the process of sorting and getting the books off the bookshelves so that I can give them away. The bookshelves, not the books, although I’ll be giving some of those away too, as aforementioned.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hello World!

This is my first attempt at anything so hip as blogging. I'm making a major life change and there are lots of people in my life that are excited and/or invested in the adventure. I am moving to Orcas Island to downshift my life a little. With that as my goal, it would seem counterproductive to spend a lot of energy worrying about whether I am keeping the many people that care about me properly apprised of the journey. Enter the blog as a good idea. My only fear is that once I have posted my thoughts on a subject or reported interesting daily events, I will have processed the information and therefore, subconsciously feel like I do not need to share it with others using more conventional forms of long-distance communication such as phone conversations, letters and emails. "What is the problem with that?" you, the hypothetical audience, may ask. Well, I believe the more conventional forms of communication are necessary to maintain friendships. Simply knowing the information about each other's lives does not an emotional connection make. That's why simply exchanging Christmas letters every year is considered a downgrade. So, I will try this for a little while and see how it affects my relationships with the people back home. I have a theory about this modern dynamic and the unreal expectations of long-distance relationships as caused by technology but maybe I'll get into that at a later point.