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.