Thursday, January 27, 2005

Everyday Living

In my conversations with people since I've been home, I realize that it's hard for some of you to picture my surroundings. I will try to show you pictures as I get them developed and digitized.

This is the Island Flavor where I currently do not work but hope to work there in the future. I do spend a lot of time there chatting with Hannah, who is one of two women friends that I have made all on my own. For some reason, wherever I go, I seem to latch on to sassy women with great laughs and here is not exception.

The Flava is at the top of a T intersection. If you follow the stem of that T away from the Flava (it's called Prune Alley; how cool is that?) on the left will be Shearwater Kayaks, which is where Jeff works in the summer and occasionally, I will carry spring rolls from the organic deli over if Tom is there and have lunch with him because the conversation is always interesting.

If you turn around and look behind you after looking at Shearwater, you will see the only true grocery store on the island. The existence of a grocery store has been a popular one, especially for those that think I have left civilization altogether. I even included the parking lot in this picture to show the extent of civilization possible, but I've never actually seen it full. Notice the dominance of VW cars. The VW density is probably the highest in the country here.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Everyday occurances

Things of note that have happened since I returned to the island after the holidays:

-The island received 3 inches of snow, which ground everything to a halt, especially for people at the end of driveways (usually gravel roads) on an incline. Even church was cancelled. Unusually, the snow and ice stuck around for over a week. This hasn’t happened in about ten years.
-My pipes froze but did not burst because the kooky guy that built this place used dishwasher tubing instead of copper pipes.
-My class on memoir writing was cancelled due to lack of participation.
-I had my first choir rehearsal. I like the high standards of the director. Dr. Whitecotton and Alan would approve of her. We’re doing a Benjamin Britten piece using the poems of Christopher Smart. It’s goofy. Although I have been stuck in the front row with the other first sopranos, I’ve made my first outreach to the back row, where all of the fun people are. The high school girl next to me is all stuck up and defensive. A stranger group of men I’ve never seen than in this bass section. Imagine every crazy intellectual outdoor man (Whitman, Hemingway, etc.) and someone that looks like him sings bass in this choir.
-I lost all of my hours at the Island Flavor.
-I’ve applied to substitute at the schools but have so far been ignored.
-I’ve met Owen Lawrence, Rachel’s new baby with a full head of long, dark hair. I needed that.
-I went over to the state-of-the-art animal shelter to spend time with the two pugs that were there waiting for their owners to get back from drug rehab. Although it was fun, neither equaled Retha for personality or cuddliness.
-I refilled the 100-gallon propane tank and bought a cord of wood. This was before I knew that I had lost my hours at the Flav.
-I’ve begun working out regularly with a woman named Mindy. We meet at 7 in the morning so we can listen to regular CD’s instead of work-out cover band CD’s. We’ve been shuffling the Beastie Boys with a 70’s mix of hers so the other day, “Sabotage” was followed by “Me and Mrs. Jones.” It was surreal.
-I’ve begun listing things that I get at the Exchange (mostly books) on the internet for sale. I’ve already made over $20.

I think that’s it. Just a little update on day-to-day life. I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Bubbling to the top

I’ve been laying kind of low lately; as always during the past two years, some days are harder than others. I seem to have had a slew of “some days” all in a row. Some of this has to do with having lost all of my hours at the Island Flavor, because they have reduced the hours in general for the winter. Since it was my major source of income, I’m a little panicked. Because I have some savings, I’m not panicked a lot. This has given me a lot of time to myself in the last week or so. It’s been pretty intense. Especially since I no longer have free cable or any other sort of television since mine went out. Apparently, the guy who normally lives in my trailer was pirating his cable off of my landlady and when the storms hit, his splice knocked out everyone around and brought the fury of the cable company down on my landlady. Since hell hath no fury like a couch potato denied, I think he’s probably glad he’s safe in Thailand.

For the past two years, I have relinquished my title as The Girl Who Doesn’t Watch TV entirely. I dub the summer after Dennis left as The Summer I Spent On The Couch because very literally every day I would wake up in the morning, go work out, come back, shower, and lay on the couch to watch TV for the rest of the day. Because I had no cable, as often as not, I would end up watching infomercials. It was a sad, sad time for me. I think I developed a little crush on Ron Popeil. After that, I was just in the habit and when I got here and there was free cable, I was doomed. Since having to live in the quiet with my own thoughts and no work, I realize that I have been using TV and busy-ness to keep from thinking. It’s been a pretty intense week. I’ve knitted. I’ve read my epic fantasy series. I’ve listed items for sale on the internet. I’ve worked on my quilt made out of Dennis’s boxer shorts. I’ve avoided cleaning. All with music in the background instead of VH1’s Top 100 Celebrity Overindulgences chattering away in my head. And I think that little bits of passion have begun bubbling up out of the quiet. I’ve begun to want things for myself. I look forward to carving out community for myself in a city. I’ve realized that I still form lesson plans in my head and talk about favorite lectures from my past. I guess I’m not done with teaching even if I’m still not quite ready to go back. I think about dating and going to grad school. I think about living this life as a barrista/used bookstore attendant with no responsibilities in a city environment. I looked at the classifieds in the Chicago Reader. I no longer have that smushed, cottony, distanced feeling when I think about what’s next. It’s intense. I can also draw tears and a panicky feeling just by breathing in too deeply. I think that the resurgence of passion is what’s making some days harder than others. Still, it’s better than betrayals making some days harder than others.

Well, back to my scissors.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Total Girl

Today, I was a total girl and did not change my own flat tire. In my old life, I considered myself fairly competent in that area. I carried fix-a-flat in my trunk, and had one of those guarantees with NTB so that they would fix any flat for free once I bought the tires from them. Well, that just won’t work here on the island. When I tried to use the fix-a-flat, it just wouldn’t come out of the can and even if it did work, the closest NTB is at least a ferry crossing away.

So, here’s how it happened. I had left Jeff’s house and was calmly driving along listening to the dulcet tones of Nick Drake because I had watched the movie Garden State yesterday and heard some on the soundtrack. Also, I’ve had a tough couple of days emotionally and Nick Drake just felt right. It’s raining (of course it’s raining) which is actually a good thing because that means that it has warmed up and the snow is being washed away. So, I’m cruising along, happy not to be driving in the slush and ice that I’ve been driving in lately because, although there are four snowplows on the island, only one of them works. (You know you’ve grown up in Chicagoland, when you have a superiority complex about snow removal.) So, I’m fairly mellow and successfully watching out for rocks that have slid down the mountainside onto the road. In fact, I’m so successful that my hubris causes me to think that this next thing in the road is probably just a big clump of slush. Sorry, Odysseus, you should have paid a little more attention to the gods with that one. I hear a big thud, then a hissing, then I realized that if I let go of the steering wheel, I veered distinctly to the right. So, I pulled over right near the Studio 4:20, which is also a horse farm. The horses looked at me strangely as I got out to confirm, yup, it’s definitely flat.

To give myself, credit, I at least entertained the notion of being a big girl and fixing it myself. Hey, I’ve got a Saturn, the most user-friendly car in the world! I flicked on the blinkers, opened the trunk, pushed the ratty wool blanket, tarp, drop cloth, seal-a-meal and argyle rain boots out to the edges of the compartment and lifted up the flooring. I was off to a good start in that, yes, there was a spare tire under there with detailed instructions on the cover. As I began to skim the directions, however, some other part of my brain began pulling up little bits of remembered conversations. I think I remember someone once saying that you have to be careful where to put the jack or you’ll bend vital parts of the car. That kid yelling, “Oh, fudge!” in slow motion as he lost all those lugnuts on A Christmas Story. The feel of skinned knuckles that I was sure I would acquire since I would have to trial and error most of the screwing and unscrewing in relation to the ground. I realized that I was kidding myself. I’d never even watched someone else change a tire. On a sunny day when I had a recent history of being emotionally stable, sure I could take the time and puzzle it out. In the rain, after several days of crying simply because I took too deep a breath, I didn’t stand a chance. So, I closed the trunk, got out my Kermit the Frog umbrella and began walking back to Jeff’s house, reveling in the good spirits that I, now, wasn’t going to lose.

Earlier, when I attempted to use my fix-a-flat, I also tried calling Jeff to see if he would come out. Since the island is mountainous, there are lots of places where cell phones don’t get signals because those places are in what is called the shadow of the mountain. Studio 4:20 is not, however, one of those dead zones. Yet, still, I was unable to call Jeff. The reason for this I that I had earlier been stupid and had left my phone on while I drove the length of the island and back several times. Every time I crossed through aforementioned mountain shadows, my phone labored to find a signal for the entire length of the shadow, which runs the battery down pretty quickly. Needless to say, it was quite unoperational by the time that I needed it.

So, I’m walking in the rain and several trucks pass going the opposite direction and wave, since it’s that kind of place. After about a quarter of a mile, I hear a car coming up behind me and stick out my thumb. Don’t freak out, Mom, people hitchhike on the island all the time. In fact, I usually pick them up if I can. They make for usually pretty interesting conversations. So, that karma (ha ha, car-ma) must have been paying off because a little old man named Thurmond picked me up in his shiny new red truck. The cab was very warm and we talked a little bit about how he came to the island in 1946 after the war. It also took us a little while to figure out just exactly where I needed to be dropped off.

So, I made some coffee and did some dishes while Jeff got out of bed with barely a grumble. I did get to ride in his VW bug, which I’ve never gotten to do before because my car is so much nicer, we always take it. It has little miniature windshield wipers (read that last phrase in a teeny-tiny voice) and he has a little squeegee to wipe the steam from the inside of the windshield that occurs when warm wet bodies pile into a cold car. It also has no heat, so I was glad that I grabbed a pair of mittens. The rest of the story is pretty anti-climactic. Jeff changed the tire with ease and good-humor while actually instructing me in how to do it the next time, with helpful hints and the like. He was impressed at the engineering of the little tiny spare and the jack. The tire is now at the Shell station. They’ll call when it’s fixed and I assume I will have to put it back on so I’m glad I watched Jeff take it off.

So, another adventure on the island. There is no moral to this one or even many jokes. Just an experience I wouldn’t have had if there was an NTB around or even a house closer to the road than 500 feet.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Meltdown in a snowstorm

I have loved going backstage in theatres ever since Greg Becker's uncle gave us a tour of the Auditorium Theater after a production of Phantom of the Opera when I was in high school. It was glorious and the dominant memory that I have of it is looking up to see a gigantic skirt hanging from one of the booms. They just lowered it onto Christine when necessary! Freaking cool. I guess that I must have had experiences going backstage before that since Dad did so much work in the theatre and I know that my freshman year we must have had a small tour of the new Steppenwolf Theatre because I remember going to see opening night of their first production there. But Greg Becker pointing out his uncle's white sneakers under the curtain at intermission because he was in position to catch the falling chandelier felt like "real" backstage stuff.

Since then, I have gotten to see a three-legged dog in the basement of Steppenwolf, toured the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and played in the costume shop of Cedar Point theme park, Plus, I've been a studio teacher, so I have gotten to wander through the Schubert with the kids from The Full Monty, I got to see a dress rehearsal of Kander/Ebb/McNally's The Visit at the Goodman and I went on tour with Dragontales and learned quite a bit about the life and smells of real stagehands.

Today, I got to see the wig and make-up shop of the Lyric Opera and to talk to their wigmaster and wig shop manager for a good 45 minutes. They were so welcoming and personable. I was tagging along with my friend Camilla, who is a fabulous fashion and costume designer. (She made my wedding dress, for those of you out there that were impressed by it.) Camilla is in an exclusive graduate program at Penn State University to get her Master's in costume design after getting her undergraduate degree in Fashion here in Chicago. She has worked her ass off and I have so much respect for her talents. She reads the plays she designs for as literature. She does more than read them; she studies them. She does oodles of research on the history of design so her own productions have real depth and authenticity. She has a passion and she has done the work to gain the skills to fulfill that passion. If I doubted her passion, I would be proven wrong by the time we spent together before the opera at the Field Museum's Jackie Kennedy exhibit. She was the perfect person to go see that with since she marvels at the actual construction of the gowns and knows the work of the designers and can understand how the dresses and suits came to be designed. She loved it. She more than loved it; she appreciated it. That appreciation made my own experience better.

When we got into the wig shop, Camilla didn't start right in because she is sometimes shy, so the wigmaster started on his usual spiel for dummies with, "Almost all of our wigs are made from human hair." He got one or two more sentences out and Camilla asked, "So, do you do your own ventilation?" Rick did a visible double-take and then smiled. I had no idea what they were talking about after that. They were absorbed in talking about what they knew because it was interesting to them and because they wanted to see if there was anything they could learn from one another. Pure passion. Camilla had her portfolio and he wanted to see it, out of genuine interest. They had a passion and it was satisfying to watch them share it with each other.

And so, we get to my meltdown. I don't have a passion. That's why I moved to the island: to rest and allow a latent passion rise to the surface. It's getting better; I have hobbies now, at least. That helps. But no passion. No desire that shapes the choices that I make in life. It sucks. But, I didn't realize that that old angst was rising to the surface in its place until I was slogging through the snow walking home from the train station. Frustration at not being picked up in what I believed to be a timely fashion (even though I knew I was rediculous to expect my mom to be a chauffer) acted as a release and I had a slight meltdown with my mom (who's wonderful) when I got home.

I was reading another blog and the man wrote about finding his "Ebenezer" in the town he had recently moved to, referring to the old hymn, "Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing," which is basically a plea to God, asking him to show us the way. Actually, rather than a plea, it's more of a request asked in a tone of confidence that the answer will come. I know that I will find something that I want to learn skills in order to do. I will find my Ebenezer. It just sucks sometimes that I'm not home yet.

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I'm come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Chestnuts roasting

How was your holiday, Rebecca? Good question. Glad you asked. I spent a good part of the first week with my family, just hanging around the house or running errands with my mother. We made chocolate thumbprint cookies and I worked on making the magnets that were gifts to my extended family. (hint - when making magnets, always glue the decorative part to the side of the magnet that does NOT stick to metal; otherwise, you have to go back and fix like half of them) Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the best parts of my family's celebration. My brothers arrive sometime in the afternoon of the 24th. Paul made it easy to light a fire in the fireplace and Mom has the tree lit. The night before, Jill, Clara and the twins were over to set up the train around the base (time-outs were involved; I'll not mention who had to take them). In that setting, we just hang out. I am so thankful that I was born into a family that in full of people that have the same perspective on live and what to do with time and into a house that has room for all of us to have our own space. We enjoy just being together. Often, that time involves making fun of my dad. I miss that casual time most when I'm on Orcas. We went to 5:00 church, which is designed for families with young children: only one or two verses of each carol and no sermon.

We are not good role models to the other children, despite the twenty to thirty years that we have of supposed maturity. It didn't help that we were in folding chairs in the Narthex and had no hymnals for the weird hymns that they put at the beginning of the service. We can do all the verses of the traditional ones in three part harmony (it would be four, but I'm the only girl). So, the lack of anything to do during the hymns makes us a little bored and we fill the time making each other laugh. Upon noticing the 5-year-old boy with light streaming pink through his ears, wearing a hand-knit-by-his-mother traditional German folk sweater, David whispered to me, "If he's really lucky, they'll take lots and lots of pictures." When the child with the strangely Cornish accent was reading, "In those days a decree went out from Ceasar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria," he sounded oddly indentical to in his struggle to pronouce the passage as Paul had on a fateful Chrstmas years ago that we've never allowed him to forget. David leaned over, patted him on the shoulder soothingly and comforted, "I'm sure he's a very bright boy." The implication was clear and very funny. Poor Paul, when he went to light his candle from the pastor's, the wick of his hit the wick of Jerry's in just the right way to extinguish the flame that the pastor had carried all the way from the Christ candle while reciting, "In the beginning was the word," and so forth. David leaned over again and asked, "What did Jerry say when you snuffed the light of Christ?" As if the accident itself hadn't already reduced us to silent choking tears in an extremely solemn moment of ceremony. Good thing Presbyterians don't put too much stock in symbolism. :-)

Dinner on Christmas Eve involved shrimp, lobster and crab legs. Woohoo! That kind of interactive food makes much of our own entertainment. We have always woken up on Christmas morning together, although there is always debate and complaining about when the first should and does rise. We snack on whatever is available (trust me, there's lots), have our own Advent ceremony celebrating Christ's birth with candles and songs, then settle into unwrapping presents. In past years, Dad has made us guess and gone about the order of who opens what with some formula known only to him. This year was a little less formula and a little more carnage. As we're all adults now, apparently guessing has been put out to pasture. After the paper was mostly picked up and David's Roomba was set to charge its battery, Mom makes amazing eggs, I make toast with the corners buttered too and Dad made a pot of the coffee that I brought from my store that was roasted on the 20th. We then laze about for the rest of our day, involving each other in our explorations of our presents. We did attempt a movie, but when we got to the theatre, THE LIFE AQUATIc had never even arrived, so we went home to make more of our own entertainment. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable two-day holiday.