Westward Ho! Day 13

Durango, CO (10:00 AM) to Lamar, CO (4:45PM). 351 miles.Spike
Notables:  Van Morrison’s Keep it Simple (thank you, Robert)
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novel Small Favor (read by James Marsters, for all you Buffy fans)

CoffeeMeeting my bloggy friend, Robert, was like coming home.  None of the emotional crap I wrestled last night took that away.  He was the thoughtful, mindful, funny, articulate man I knew from his blog and mine.  His voice sounded exactly as I imagined, his clear gaze looked and saw.

We sat at Durango Coffee Company for about an hour, shedding the distance of friends who only know each other through letters. We asked big questions and dove deep for the answers.  And we laughed.

Robert wanted me to have some Van Morrison for the rest of my trip (I love how music-people know when you need a piece of music).  We strolled down to the music store, still talking, but we were too early.  And I needed to be on my way.  So, we took a detour to his truck where he pulled out Keep it Simple from his CD player and handed it over.

IMG_0552I was so enthralled, I forgot to have a barista take our picture.  Crap.  Next time.  Because there will be a next time.

The rest of the day took me through the Colorado Rockies, through lots of little burgs, and into a scape that looked almost like home.  Rock still juts out of Eastern Colorado’s skin, but the grass and trees are turning Prairie.  Soon all that tectonic majesty will be behind me and the sea of fields will take over.

IMG_0562Tonight, I get to cook my Ramen noodles in a sweet, shabby-chic B&B.  Lace curtains, antique furniture, quilt on the bed, and a retro bathroom all just for me.  There’s a house cat on the porch.  What Traveling Girl could ask for more?

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Westward Ho! Day 12

Golden Valley, AZ (9:00 AM Pacific) to Durango, CO (6:30 PM Mountain).  469 miles.
Notables: (for singing loud) Wailin’ Jennys Live

IMG_0264 (1)So much for good intentions.

Melanie, my host in Golden Valley, lassoed me as I was loading the car, and we ended up gabbing for an hour in a sort of open-air living room;  old couch, recliner, and side table under a trellis in the front yard.  Magnificent view and another magical connection.

I cut loose before she could give me a tour of the property, though.  Like Mr. Frost, I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go before I sleep.

So off I went across Arizona, through Hopi, Navajo and Ute land. There, buttes and mesas dominate; brick-red sedimentary formations.  Sometimes ponies pastured on top of them, which made for an unbelievably cinematic silhouette against the cloudy sky.

MV_dramatic_sky_jan_2011I spent most of the day on a two-lane highway with no rest stops and long patches of nothing between gas stations.  We women of a certain age don’t do well without regular “rest” stops.  Luckily, I grew up on a farm and knew how to duck into a cow path off the road.  Some skills never die.

I had texted my friend, Robert, and my Durango hosts about being late.  Robert said not to worry.  I never heard back from my hosts.  So, when I got to their drive, and the gate was chained and locked, I fretted.  Soon, Ginger drove down the lane toward me.  They thought I was coming the next night.  What worried me even more was that Robert said the same thing; he thought I was coming the next day and couldn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Did I get my dates mixed up?  It would have been so easy to do with all these B&Bs to keep straight.  I had a text exchange with my sister earlier in the day, and she noted that I didn’t give myself much down-time or slack in my schedule.  True.  And no place for fuck-ups.

All this really threw me.  Even though Robert and I made plans to meet for coffee tomorrow morning, even though Ginger apologized and said they’d looked at their AirBNB calendar wrong, I had to sit in my car for a while and bawl.

I know I’m tired, which makes me more reactive.  It also makes me more rigid (Go With The Flow went).  I felt choked by disappointment and embarrassed by weeping in front of strangers.  And really bipolar.

A teensy part of me watched all of it happen.  That part cooked Ramen noodles.  That part talked to Ginger and Phil about their old dog, Zeke.  That part took a deep breath and held the exhaustion tenderly.  That part of me is okay.

It’s getting bigger by the minute, that teensy part.  Pretty soon, all of me will be okay.

Again.

And still.

Westward Ho! Day 7

Our last day of classes.

I skipped breakfast this morning to write about yesterday and ease into the day.  The Fort has a little coffee shop, so I stopped there for a latte and scone before heading to Jesse’s class; a quiet walk through the morning mist to the other side of campus with only my bag’s wheels grumbling on the asphalt and the gulls calling overhead.  Lots of crows here, too.  And owls.  The Flying Ones offer lots of singing practice.

I think Jess’s class was my favorite.  We worked in black and white acrylic paint using a fan brush and our hands.  Primitive mark-making.  And like Michael deMeng’s class, we started looking for areas of interest and larger images.  I loved the energy and immediacy of it.  Black and white felt so much easier than color.  And Jesse was a hoot.  He told stories in different accents, so of course I loved him.

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Details from the pages; lots of little Mr. Bills getting out of the thorny, pregnant monster’s way.

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After lunch, it was finally time for Tracy Moore’s class.  This was the watershed moment. Could he teach/inspire/goad me into art journaling?  Was there a way to incorporate art into my daily journal practice?  Or were these two modes of expression forever separate for me?

Tracy’s very low-key, but passionate about art journaling.  He just wanted us to keep our hand moving over the page, doodling, trying different simple shapes while he told stories about his own process.  He talked about how journaling for him is a social experience, hanging out in coffee shops and bars with his journal and pens, inviting people he meets to draw something in them.  Some of his pages have lots of text, some don’t.  He admits that he gets bored easily and switches things up.

He also gave us a list of his favorite stuff; pens, techno doo-dads, stamp-making tools, online stores.  I made a list.

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Later I talked to him about being a writer who also does art and whether I could combine the two.  “Keep it simple,” he suggested.  “Try it and see what happens.”

So at the Last Night Party,  I sat with everyone else and wrote in my newly minted art journal and pondered this question.  The Seattle band, Surrealized, provided mood music and the door between my words and my art cracked open.  Is the separation illusion?  If both are allowed to play together, what else might join them?  What else might have been sacrificed to my bipolar scramble for survival?  What else waits for room?

I’m willing to push the door open a little wider and invite everyone to come play.

 

Westward Ho! Day 6

IMG_0405I smartened up yesterday, dumped out one suitcase, and loaded it with all the art supplies I need to schlep to classes.  I’d seen other people doing this, so it’s not my brilliant idea.  Just took me a day.

Yesterday’s classes were with painters.  I’ve longed to learn how to use paint since high school (when I flunked art class).  It’s always intimidated me, so I ran through a gammet of expected emotions throughout the day.  It was a challenge to stay present, to breathe, to remember who I was and that I was okay no matter what.  Both teachers were kind, funny, helpful, nonjudgmental.  All that made a challenging day successful.

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Again, these pages are just beginnings; a way to learn techniques and start applying them.  We all wanted weeks to keep working on them.

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In Michael’s class, we started with a wash of paint, then slowly pulled images out of it with repeated layers of wash and white highlights.  This is one technique I want to try again.  It has a spooky, otherworldly quality that I dig in a big way, but couldn’t quite grok in three hours.

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Then it was time for the vendor show.  Half a table turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected, so I ditched my idea of showing my bigger collages and set up my cards as best I could.  My table-mate, Lynn, and her girlfriend, started laughing at my stuff almost immediately, so that helped me settle down and enjoy myself.

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And all I can really say is, “Holy Shit!”  People crowded around my end of the table until Teesha flicked the lights to call quits on the show.  Even then, a couple of new friends hung around, digging through my boxes and exclaiming over details like WW1-era papers and gilding paints.  Compliments bombarded me like little Nerf balls.  I loved telling the stories of cards people chose; This is my grandma… This is my mom and dad…This image came from a 1915 holistic health magazine…  This group of folks loved it.  I was in my perfect venue.

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I started out with four boxes of cards and ended up with two and a half.  I haven’t tallied the take, but let me tell you, it’s much more than I ever expected.  I was in shock when I packed up.

IMG_0403And stinky, sticky with adrenalin.

And my back ached like a son-of-a-bitch.

And What A Day!

 

Westward Ho! Day 4

Spokane, WA (7:30 AM) to Port Townsend, WA (4:00 PM).  370 miles.
Notables: Sting’s Roxanne (Symphonicities version)

Between Spokane and Seattle

Well, really, ho-hum.  Another day of brilliant sun, snow-capped mountains, burbling streams.  It’s just all a little overdone, don’t you think?  I mean, on and on with the sapphire sky and pine-fresh air… can’t these Pacific Northwesterners show a little restraint?

We were doing just fine until Seattle.  I saw signs for a tollway and wondered, tollways?  When was the last time I paid a toll?  Do they still have big buckets to throw quarters at as you pass by?  Do I have any quarters?

Since John had no answers, I thought I’d better stop and inquire about proper procedure.  I didn’t want to get chased by Washington State Smokies (Were they even called that anymore?  Geez, I felt old).

Come to find out, the highway cams snap a picture of your license plate and you get a bill in the mail.  More stuff I never knew.

On the FerrySo, I was a little flustered when we got to the ferry.  I thought I told John to take a different route to avoid the ferry, but here we were.  The first time around, Cleese got us in the wrong lane and the Port Authority officer yelled at me (until he saw that I had an Iowa license plate and clearly no accurate help from my British Sulu).

 After I stuffed a sock in his recorded yap, I found my way to the ferry toll and holding area.  Clear sailing from there on (pun only sort of intended).

Looking Back at SeattleI’m finding that a GPS system can get just as befuddled as a human when the details become complicated and change quickly.  Two heads (one nav-sat and one bipolar) really are better than one.

Another hour of twisty two-lane highway through forest and, to my surprise, cattle ranches brought us to Port Townsend and Fort Worden.

I checked in, made my journal (which will hold all the art I make this week), dumped my stuff in my dorm room (which used to be the barracks), and started schmoozing.

dorm

IMG_0364Dinner offered a vegan option (a to-die-for veggie burger).  Teesha made a few logistical announcements and introduced our teachers.

I made a few swaps (traded art bits) with the fun folk I’ve met so far, and came to my room to report and crash.  Tomorrow: ART.Art Swaps

 

 

 

Westward, Ho! Day 1

Marshalltown, IA (7 AM Central) to Interior, SD (5:30 Mountain).  575 miles.
Notable tunes: Don Henley’s Cass County.  Audiobook: Terry Pratchett’s Nation.

It was a dark and gloomy night… er… morning.

Packed UpI could barely believe that THE DAY had come.  No more lists.  No more sleepless nights (There’s a Country song in there some place), just my nosey neighbor hurrying out to snoop as I finished packing the car, her barky wiener dog in tow.  In no time, I’d shaken the Marshalltown dust off my wheels and set out in the lowering gloom.

mink1First rest stop was Sac City, where I got a whiff of Skunk as I gassed up the car.  Auspicious!  Skunk became my Animal Guide in a sweat lodge ceremony eons ago.  Her scent still makes me feel protected and in the flow.  Then, when I walked along the North Racoon River, I spotted a mink at the water’s edge.  My aunt used to raise mink, so I knew it wasn’t just a weasel.  The gifts seemed to be tumbling out of the trees!

North RacoonIt felt wonderful to squish in mud along the water’s edge, to see geese and hear the bird chatter.  I was glad to have my hat, as the wind at 34 degrees still held a bit of winter.

And who knew Sac City was the home of Barn Quilts?  The things one learns On the Road.

Barn QuiltThe next stop was Tea, South Dakota.  I mean, really, how could I not stop for a spot of Tea after being bossed around by John Cleese all day (His best bit so far has been:  “In 500 yards, bear right; beaver left.”) and listening to a fabulous Terry Pratchett audiobook, read by a lovely British baritone (yes, there are actually a few of those I don’t know or claim as Pretend Boyfriends)?Tea, anyone?

A few hours further west, the skies cleared, the snow melted and temperatures warmed into the 50s.  No more adventures, just clear sailing in the bright sunshine and on into the Badlands.  I knew those naughty bits were close by, but didn’t expect to drive through the State park.  What a feast to wind through all that topographical drama!Badlands

The sun sloped from the west as I drove through The Circle View Ranch’s gate.  A family played ring-toss in the yard.  A scrappy herder-dog watched them from the porch of the main house.  Chickens meandered and pecked along the drive.Circle View Ranch

Badland Chickens

My room is lovely with a private bathroom.  I think my cowboy nephew would like it here.

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Time to wash my Ramen bowl and call it a day.

 

All Systems Go

Sunday, before dawn, I’ll be on my way to ArtFest and points West.  Just one final checklist to run through.

“Flight Controllers? Give me a Go/No Go for Launch.  Booster…”

We had our glitch yesterday.  Testing a new GPS device on the trip to Des Moines, I left the unit turned off, but plugged in when I went in to my meeting.  Two hours later—dead car.  Controlled hysteria ensued.  But, just like Mark Watney, I got to work.


2011-honda-cr-v-ex-lThe folks at my meeting found jumper cables, and I cancelled two other appointments to hurry home to my mechanic (since I could only hope it was a dead battery).  Even though they were booked solid, Rich, Rose and Jeff at Alley Auto hooked Corvus up to telemetry and determined the battery sound.  Just unplug anything from the USB when the engine isn’t running.  Good to know.

“FIDO…”

TomTom took almost two weeks to determine the problem with a celebrity voice I tried to download to my GPS unit, but now John Cleese is officially telling me where to go.

“Guidance…”

I love how easy it was to book overnight stays at Bed and Breakfasts through Airbnb.  It’s giving the hotels in California such a run for their money, that there’s a new tax on B&Bs there (the bastards).  All the B&Bs along my flight path confirmed and anticipate my arrival with utmost glee.  Or at least they promise not to greet me with a shotgun.

Guesthouse on the Green, Billings, Montana

“Surgeon…”

The sinus infection is nearly done, just a few sniffles and a mostly-baritone voice.  I’m taking my whole medicine chest with me just in case as well as good trainers for those fifteen minute breaks every two hours to walk off any fomenting blood clots or nasty butt boils.  Too graphic?  Just wait.

water“EECOM…”

I’m packing a cooler with lunch supplies, a crate of chips, enough Ramen noodles for two weeks, a bale of bottled water, and everything I need to make my daily Shakeology smoothie.  So, basically my whole kitchen  (Oh, and the seasonal jelly bean or two).

“GNC…”

The wild rapid cycling seems to have slowed the last few days.  Anxiety and mania have mellowed to gentle anticipation. A lot of that has to do with preparation and gnat’s ass attention to detail.  When the car died yesterday, I told my sister I was so glad I tested the GPS unit before Sunday, and that I was thankful Mom taught us to be anal.  My sis texted back, “Yes, it does come in handy.”

audiobooks-200x200“INCO…”

My friend, Ellen, at the library gave me an extension on the dozen audiobooks I borrowed.  Between those, my iPod, and a few additional CDs, I ought to stay entertained.  Since I’ll be driving seven to nine hours a day, I won’t have much time to stop at wayside junk shops, but if one happens to jump in front of me…

Back to Normal 10:10:15

 “Network…”

Sue, The Cat Whisperer, will be tending my ground crew while I’m away.  The steely-eyed missile men took to her immediately, and seem to know that she’ll be The Keeper of the Treats.  I’m so lucky to have reconnected with this friend from high school who loves felines as much as I do (and is used to a swampy litter box).

Kuralt-typing-in-his-van“CAPCOM…”

My friend, Cat, loaned me a laptop so that I can pretend to be Charles Kuralt.  My plan is to settle into a comfy B&B each night, cook up a bowl of Ramen noodles, and write a blog post of the day’s excitement On The Road.  I feel very journalistic and savvy since it’s a Microsoft laptop instead of a Mac.

My Butt Itches“Payload…

“I figured the other day that I’d made 87 cards in 81 days.  Since a therapist once told me to eliminate productive from my vocabulary, I’ll just say I’m pleased and amazed at that number.  Some of those cards were special orders or sold on my Etsy shop, but most are going with me.  The vendor show at ArtFest only lasts an hour (Hmmm.  We’ll see about that…), but I’m excited to show my wares and present a funky table display.

“FAO…”

A lot of people helped make this Bucket List Trip a reality.  From Cheryl and Tom loaning me a second suitcase and card displays to my deceased mom leaving me her Honda, I have relied on the kindness and generosity of my clan.  Thank you, everyone.  I am forever grateful.

So let’s go through that checklist one last time.

Changing the Story

Flinch

When my nurse practitioner told me on Monday that she was treating me for pneumonia, I felt an inordinate amount of satisfaction.  Smug, even.  And at the same time, I was angry and resentful that my friends and family weren’t rallying around me.  When I stopped to look at all that head-ichor, it felt contradictory and very, very old.

We’ve been exploring ancestry in our UU study groups—how ancestors may differ from relatives, how we receive transmissions and transfer them on to the next generation, how we are given gifts and responsibilities.  With that in the back of my mind, I began to see my reactions to illness and support as a transmission.  They are as much traditions in my family as oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

wicked witchThe only time we could count on our mom giving us positive attention was when we were sick.  She touched us with care.  She looked at us.  It was acceptable to wake her up in the middle of the night to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.”  It was not acceptable to be scared of the Wicked Witch on The Wizard of Oz.  I learned that at the age of three, sitting on Mom’s lap.  “If you’re going to be that way,” I remember her saying, “I’m turning off the TV.”  I got it: Emotions=Bad.  Illness=Good.

It was also a long-standing tradition to value illness that could be named, especially by a doctor, or was freakishly out of the ordinary.  So, my brother scored lots of points for the fast growth spurt he experienced as a teen when he woke up one morning unable to move.  The story of my dad carrying him in a fetal position to the car is legend in my family.  Same with the story of my brother accidentally dropping a pitchfork on my sister’s face and how the tine curved around her eye instead of puncturing it.  These are the fairy tales I heard as a child.

merthiolateGetting a cold wasn’t legendary, but having warts that disappeared before the doctor could inspect them smacked of magic and mystery—and worthiness.  I knew when I fell off my bike I’d better have gravel for Mom to pull out with tweezers or I wasn’t worthy of her time.  I learned how to wash a wound, dab on merthiolate and blow the sting away, wrangle a Band-aid without it sticking to itself.  I learned not to bother Mom with minor injuries.

But worthiness carried over into other areas of our life.  Recently, I talked to my brother about this.  It was no secret that he won the Most Worthy Award in our mom’s estimation.  He wrote to our parents every week from the time he left for college until Mom died last year.  He came home for Christmas every year, a nine hour drive from Bemidji, often through bad weather.  He kept the same job with the state of Minnesota his entire work-life and still works part-time, though he is officially retired.  He’s a little eccentric, which somehow made him more dear rather than worrisome.

I asked him why he did it.  Why did he write faithfully every week for all those years?

“Mom told me to,” he said.

testMy brother passed a test I failed long ago—obedience and demonstration of affection.  It was our responsibility to prove to our mom that we loved her, to do what we were told.  After my dad died, I think my sister understood unconsciously that a new test was in the wind.  She called our mom every day.  She helped her buy a new car and new furniture.  Of course she wanted to support Mom in her grief and confusion, but there was a frantic quality to it, a blurring of boundaries that sapped my sister’s emotional energy.  Eventually, my sister backed away enough to rebuild her boundaries.  And, of course, Mom felt abandoned.  And angry.

As I consider my family’s emotional legacy, I see all of it playing out in me.  I made light of my chest cold as just another annual event and went about being stoic and “taking care of it myself,” because it was nothing special.  At the same time, I silently tested my friends and family to see if they “cared enough” to call or offer help.  When they didn’t, I got angry and marked them as unworthy.

My care-giver, Leanne, visited yesterday, and she slapped me awake like a Zen master.  “How can they offer help if they don’t know you’re sick?”

Holy crap.  I’d turned into my mom, expecting people to read my mind and anticipate my needs.  I had carried forward a story that may have started generations ago.  What happened in my mom’s young life to make her so insecure about being seen and loved?  What happened to her mother to demand a boundary-less relationship with her youngest daughter?  I felt compassion and sorrow, imagining my mother and my grandmother trying to scratch affection out of a barren landscape.  Or, more accurately, what they perceived as barren through the lens of this family fairy tale.

Oz

So, I did a scary and fairy tale-contradictory thing yesterday.  I announced on FaceBook that I had pneumonia and would appreciate kind words and help.  The outpouring of love and people rushing to come to my aid knocked me senseless.

I’m well aware that being able to say pneumonia still carries a lot more brownie points in my mind than the less worthy chest cold.  Editing this old story will take time and patience.  But my hope is that the legacy stops here.  Part of my work as a point on the continuum of time and ancestry will be to pass on a different story of who we might be.  In that fairy tale, everyone is worthy.

Scaredy Cat Postscript

Back to Normal 10:10:15

Houston, all systems nominal.  Green lights across the board.

Roger that, “Purry 1.” Glad to have you back onboard.

(Okay. I saw “The Martian” today.  These are my steely-eyed missile men.)

Cats. Go Figure.

bookCats are a puzzlement. I’ve lived with them my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of searching the barn for the litters of spring kittens hidden like furry contraband by their mams. And after all these years, I still can’t predict or even hazard a guess about how they might behave.

I’ve read books, talked with vets, consulted other dedicated cat keepers. We’re all mystified. We might get to understand one cat a tiny bit—enough to keep from constantly pissing them off—but the next feline, like the next human, will be completely different.

sudokuThis is actually one of the joys of sharing space with cats. Learning their quirks, recognizing their different personalities, even devising unique methods to discourage unwanted behavior pose a fun challenge akin to Sudoku. The purrs, and blinky-kisses, and intellectual conversation are more than worth it.

I enjoy dogs, too. There’s nothing like a dog’s flat-out joy or unconditional loyalty. But where dogs are Captain Obvious, cats are Greta Garbo. Subtle, slit-eyed, cats rarely show all their cards and generally “Vant to be Alone.”  Or at least companionable on their own terms. Breach feline etiquette at great risk—a disapproving cat will make you pay.

knottsSo, I’ve tried not to make too much of Emmett’s nearly-constant state of anxiety this summer.  I know he’s the Don Knotts of kitties—bug-eyed and jittery with nerves, ready to bolt at the slightest hint of… well… anything.  But, it seems like he forgot who I was, where he was.  Nothing registers in his little brain except some awful soundtrack from one of the Friday the 13th movies.

I spent the last three days in Minneapolis playing with friends.  Driving home last night, I wondered how Emmett navigated my absence.  Did it stress him out even more, or was it a relief?

When I got home, he was tucked under the comforter of my bed—a good sign, a normal sign.  And then he hissed at me when I peeked at him.  A very good sign.  I’ll take hissing over paralyzed submission any day.

SharingAnd then this morning, after Henry stole my chair and I had to drag over the footstool to catch up on email, this happened 

Emmett got up behind me and fell asleep against my backside.  And he let me take a picture.

He looks a little mangy, but I’ll get the comb out tomorrow.  One miracle a day is all I can handle.

Cats. Go Figure.

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