First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

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No: Thoughts, regrets, and an on-going process.

I’ve been thinking about the word “no” lately. A lot.

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It comes with the territory of working in the domestic violence field.

I’ve gotten used to entering in paperwork that documents strangulation, human trafficking, and other atrocities. I have to. It’s my job, my $16.20-an-hour-plus-benefits job, and if I thought about every person who was on those forms, every instance of violence, violation, endangerment, or the other fucked up shit, I wouldn’t sleep. I would ruin my relationship with my boyfriend. I would have problems eating, enjoying sunshine, and smiling at all the puppies that are out and about on the hiking trails. I’ve managed to tune a lot of it out, compartmentalize my work, but it still gets to me, how many people couldn’t say no, couldn’t leave, couldn’t escape.

Something really got me recently though. I was listening to The Heart podcast, a beautiful, tender, hilarious, and marvelous podcast about sex, love, intimacy, gender, genitals, and humanity. The producer, Kaitlin Prest, created a series called “No” and it brought me back to so many places in my life. She discussed how hard it is to say the word. How she practiced for years saying no. How men ignored those no’s, selfishly, to achieve what they wanted- a blowjob in a basement, sex that would ruin a friendship, a massage that had boundaries clearly marked and then steamrolled over.

It brought me back to the thousands of instances where I wish I could have said no or felt safe doing so. When men would catcall me on runs in high school, I wish I could have rejected their harassment that made me hyper-aware of my body, my changing body that already betrayed me with periods and breasts and all these things that made me want to dig a hole in my yard and come out in a decade or two- no.

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I vividly remember sitting on my couch in my apartment my final year of college with my then-boyfriend Chris. He said, on an otherwise nice afternoon, “You would be so much sexier if you exercised more”. I should have said no, walked him to the door and shut it and ended it there. I should have rejected his judgement, his shaming of my body, the softness and fullness of parts of it that I sometimes still struggle to embrace even though I am beautiful. I remember blushing and feeling humiliated and like I had done something wrong, because male attention was still such a focal point of my life. I had been raised by television, magazines, my friend group, everybody, that men wanting you was right, good, important- that it validated my existence. I had given this man a lot but it was not enough and that was my fault.

Except, it wasn’t. It was his fault because he had issues about being a short dude so he would comment on my body because his was short and thin and didn’t make an effort to do anything about it- it was easier to let me know how I was supposed to act and look.

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I was working at the Forest Service, where a tall, beady-eyed, parasitic man named John who worked there, who was friends with the boss, would corner me in my front desk, which only had one entrance, and say things about my body and make me feel like I needed to take a shower after. I worked hard to speak up for myself, but he lingered for two years afterwards, and I deeply regret not telling him to his face that he was a loathsome creep, no. (Also,  a big fuck you to the Forest Service for never doing anything about John, who also was a fucked up grade A creep to many other women in my office.)

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It’s so fucking hard to say NO. I almost cried as Kaitlin described on her podcast being harassed by a dude in a basement who asked her, repeatedly, “give me a blowjob” and how hard it was for her to refuse again and again, because this disgusting, selfish man kept wearing her down, until she did it, because she felt like she didn’t have options.

I have done many things I never wanted to. I have been made to feel many things I never wanted to. My life has been struck through, like a streak of quartz, diamond-hard in rock, with shame, humiliation, frustration, anger, and insane amounts of un-quelled fear. I have been violated, my body disrespected, in more ways than I want to count- the men ganging up on me at a bar after one of them grabbed my ass so I couldn’t call out which one trespassed on my body. The guy I went to elementary and middle school with who made fun of me and called me names, who years later humiliated me in new ways, over a decade down the road, by touching me in a bar in Bozeman, Montana. I didn’t say NO because he was big, heavy, and because I also fell down a rabbit hole of new grief, because he had made me feel awful so long ago and now I was being subjected to fresh feelings of awfulness by this selfish bastard.

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I still am bad at saying no when I should. I like pleasing people too much, I like keeping things even and nice and smooth. In the moment, as a woman, it is safer to stay quiet, it doesn’t put me or my loved ones in danger. It doesn’t rile people up or harsh the vibe. It’s exhausting and not sustainable and yet almost every woman I know lives their life with this weight of this problem with them, whether or not they acknowledge its presence.

This isn’t a post about resolving to start speaking up more – that would be a bold faced lie if I typed it and left it here on this blog. I’ve been vulnerable on this platform blog for years and I can’t pretend to suddenly be strong, armored, and actively making up for all the time I’ve lost being disrespected, violated, ashamed, and made to feel that my body is not mine.

I do genuinely enjoy asserting my space and what I feel. Putting out my pointy elbows at a concert so men don’t crowd my personal space, calling out men who say sexist, wrong things, and always looking out for other women or other vulnerable people. I don’t mind sharing my past traumas with men and other women so they know that they’re real, and I don’t mind making people uncomfortable with these memories. I don’t like silence- it cloaks and obscures realities. I found it comforting in a dark, fucked up way, to hear Kaitlin’s “No” podcast discuss what so many women like me experience. Maybe talking about my experiences on this blog will comfort somebody else.

The Oregon Coast

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It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

A brief interlude in Portland.

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After 13 hours on a train, we got out at Union Station and took an Uber to the house we’d rented. The driver bemoaned the uptick in rent, the crazy amount of people moving into the city every day, but eagerly told us about the cherry blossoms, spring, and the local music scene.

Portland was a lot of what I had assumed- full of young people with eclectic ideas of fashion, lots of niche coffee shops (one catered entirely to basketballers and sneakerheads), and so many restaurants I wondered what the failure rate of eateries in Portland was.

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It was also a city full of theater, art, parks, and beautiful buildings tucked away in quiet places. It bridges the beautiful, deep Columbia River, and we walked over one of the bridges that link the city together, and looked at the large ships anchored on the edges of the river. We tucked ourselves away out of the expected rain in a pub dedicated to British soccer that was wonderfully grimy and character-filled. We tried to get tickets to see the Portland Trailblazers play, to no avail. I ate a lot, walked a lot, and the humidity did things to my hair. I admired Childe Hassam paintings and saw Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and made fun of statues with historically questionable quotations attached. It was a much needed, humid, warm (er) respite from the unyielding grip of Montana winter. 27745408978_43926b02b6_c40903606394_2ea45b0872_c40903610514_a88c989bce_c

Cape Kiwanda

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It was windy, blustery, loud, and sandy, and yet so beautiful I wanted to sit down and watch the waves for hours. We walked through the dunes and emerged onto the beach, unprotected and being bombarded by wind and waves. The wind threw pieces of sea foam across the beach, and I jumped down on them as they flew in my direction. We let the wind not so much caress as assault our faces and senses, because the view was spectacular. It was unkind to people, and so we had the beach to ourselves. Everything was different, less saturated browns, greys, and greens- even the water looked dull and matte in color. Birds were whisked away by the wind and we watched them move quickly above our heads. It was too cold to stay for long, and too windy to be truly savored in the way we would have liked, but it was still epic and it made my think about the meaning of my life, how small and somewhat silly my existence is, and yet how marvelous it was for me to see this beautiful expanse of sand and sea that was so indifferent to me.

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A much needed respite.

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We flew home yesterday, coming back to a strangely green Montana. It has been so, so long since I saw more than a few bits here and there of living, chlorophyll-consuming flora!

Oregon had an excess of it. Vines tangled everywhere with roots, trees growing on top of trees, forest groves so dark that it was shadowy hours before the sun set within them. We felt the mist of waterfalls upon our faces, gazed at drop-offs where thousands of gallons of water flowed down. We saw flowers of all sorts, wild and cultivated. All over the farmlands of Oregon, fruit trees were blossoming, showing off neat rows of perfect blooms on perfect branches. Tendrils of mist ran down from the heavy clouds and the fog seemed so thick at times that we could have reached out and cupped it.

We slept in a yurt one night, with the rain coming down so hard that I couldn’t hear Logan speak if he was more than a foot or two away from me. INtermittent bouts of hail made the dim even louder, so that we could hear nothing but the water coming down in it’s various forms. At one point with the lights off it was so dark I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed, and combined with the sound of the rain it was quite discombobulating, but absolutely new and in this way wonderful.

We didn’t see many creatures, but rather saw or heard traces of them. Deer footprints sunken deep in mud and debris covered forest floors, the echoing call of a fussy bald eagle early in the morning, signs on the road that merely said ELK, black against yellow. We tried to find hawks that called dramatically from tree tops with binoculars but never saw them, secretive creatures. I got to see a lovely, fat slug on a trail outside Portland, and I hadn’t seen a slug so green and large since I had been on the Juan de Fuca trail with Morgan some years back!

Oregon was lush in a Dionysian sense, with vineyards everywhere and wine tasting rooms by the dozen. We ate salads with chopped roasted hazelnuts and the waitress at one restaurant proudly gave us a litany of facts about hazelnut production in Oregon, which apparently is one of the biggest producers in the world. My father, who has been living there for almost a year, boasted about the crops of cherries, apples, marionberries, salmon, crab, and other natural foods that are plentiful in the waters and hills of the state.

Overall, I ate too much. I slept too little. My eyes drank in sights I needed to see, that my soul craved. Steep cliffs shrouded in fog, enormous waves crashing against rocks, not knowing their own power to awe me. Waterfalls coming out of nowhere, with the wind whipping the water into clouds of mist. Shades of deep green I want to have a dress in, and craggy, moody mountains. Delightfully sleepy riverside towns, big historical breweries that serve hearty clam chowder. Clothes made for layering and nestling in. It has been almost a year since I moved out of Victoria and my heart needed to fill the space that Victoria left with some moody, ocean-side things. Oregon filled it up a little bit, which is almost worst than not at all. Now my urge to move back is stronger than ever. I ache for the quiet mornings by the ocean, hearing the rhythm of the waves and simply being, not thriving or acting or doing or making, but being in the wonderful body I have by another, more primordial or essential body that is omnipotent, terrifying, and soothing simultaneously. Ah, the sea.

I have rolls of film I need to pick up tomorrow and get scanned in, and I cannot wait to show you more of Oregon. I hope for now that my words will do.

Ruby’s Cafe

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I love hole-in-the-wall diners. The coffee is generally weak, the food semi-average, but the decor, the patrons, the chats, and the traditions that diners invite beckon me.

Logan and I tried to go to Paul’s Pancake Parlor, which apparently is amazing, but it was packed beyond belief. We drove a block and found Ruby’s Cafe, which hasn’t altered its interior decor since the 1970s, or so it seemed.

I love places that don’t budge. The Uptown Diner in downtown Missoula recently closed, and that was a big blow to the budget diner scene here. I love going places where a good chunk of the patrons are regulars, where the goal  isn’t to be hip or new. Diners are a part of Americana that don’t respond quickly to changes, and there is comfort in that. You walk in, sit in a booth, and know that the menu will have the usual options (pancakes, sausages, hashbrowns), and that the coffee, as mediocre as it may be, will be hot and full of caffeine.

Bibliophile moments

I finally got my library card (YES!) and since have been checking out books just about every week.

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Recently, I’ve been loving Dan Flores’ Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big, fat book full of illustrations and paintings, and even if you don’t read the text, the art he showcases within the pages is worth looking at.

What Flores does that drew me to this book, though, is re-examine so many stale, old stereotypes and tropes within Western American art that drove me away from it. I hate, for example, the same cowboys being painted again and again. I loathe the “noble savage” paintings done by white dudes that hang in galleries in Bozeman, Whitefish, and Jackson Hole. Flores looks at this art and calls it out for what it is- false narratives of hyper-masculinity that continue to be created to feed myths for the types of men who purchase the art. He also brings forth new perspectives on beautiful art that shrinks white men to ants, that works to show us something new, and something beautiful.

Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art also caught my eye. My first degree is in Art History and after having lived in Europe and traveled extensively, there is still evidence of World War II everywhere. Feliciano traces how Germany systematically confiscated thousands of paintings by some of the most remarkable painters of the last five hundred years, including Vermeer, Matisse, Manet, Cranach, Bruegel, Tiepolo, and others. To this day, thousands of paintings, enamels, medals, coins, and other works of art are gone, likely squirreled away in vaults, museum archives, or in private family holdings. The sleuth-like narrative he uses intrigued me immediately and his knowledge of art, his access to declassified files, and other sources make the book thorough but also devastatingly sad.

I recently picked up Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, which I am so excited to read! I’ve heard amazing things, and ever since I took an art history course about Roman wall paintings and another about ancient Rome, my love for all things Roman has grown. A quiet dream of mine is to live in Rome for a whole autumn or spring at some point, and wander around the streets, have an espresso in a crowded cafe, and soak in the millenia of history.

It’s been over three months… so here are some updates in film.

Hello likely non-existent readers! I am not dead, nor in cryogenic suspension, nor in a coma, nor anything un-conscious.

In the last three months, I cut my hair off, which turned my wavy long hair into a short, bouncy, loose bob with full curls, and I couldn’t be happier!

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In March I turned twenty-seven, and this year I want to give fewer fucks about things I cannot control. I want to control who I give my energy to more, and where I put it. My anxiety and fears often threaten to spill over to contaminate parts of my life I don’t want them to.

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I’ve been trying to shoot medium format film that my aunt gave me for Christmas, and so far it’s been more failures than anything else but it’s been so fun giving it a try!

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Sharing space with all the critters around here, and finding that several walk the same paths that I do.

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This spring I’ve been feeling a lot of things and have been trying to go to rallies, marches, talks, and forums to help cope with and change what is happening around me. Spending time with my family and loved ones helps as well.

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It’s April and winter is not giving up quite yet. I put away my snow boots, and as I type a snow storm is raging outside our kitchen windows. The back door blew open from the gusts! It’s been miserable being teased by the seasons like this. However, we do have some beautiful buds on our trees and the beginnings of our iris flowers are poking up through the beds of leaves that covered them all winter. I cannot wait to hear more birds (we already hear northern flickers, robins, chickadees, and meadowlarks!) and see more flowers bloom. Crocuses are popping up everywhere too!

Sorry for my absence. Time never seems to make enough space to let you do everything you want to. I’ve been writing, researching, working, trying to go on runs, eat healthier, and do the self-care things I need to. That being said, I’ve got lots of thoughts and blog ideas swirling around, so I hope you’ll see more of me!

Uptown/Downtown

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I love places that are falling apart a bit. This diner is one of those places- there was literally a piece of duct tape on the windowsill, clearly serving some purpose. Nestled on bustling Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula, I feel like this diner is under-loved. If you’re just looking for eggs and hash browns and coffee, come here. If you’re looking for kielbasa and eggs benedict and fancy baked things, there’s a great place across the street called The Catalyst that’s amazing!

Today, we just wanted eggs, hash brows, and coffee. Breakfast for lunch in a zany, hyper-bright diner that refuses to be anything but over the top felt like the perfect way to pretend that after, we wouldn’t just go back to our work and be cogs in many systems. I’ll take a place with duct tape in the window, because it’s not trying to bullshit anybody. It says yeah, I need a facelift, but the stuff in the kitchen works and your coffee is hot, and I can’t ask for anything more.

 

I was on Medicaid as a healthy, able-bodied, educated woman. Everybody deserves affordable access to healthcare.

Excuse the boring title. If you’ve been reading my blog you know last year I spent a lot of time talking about unemployment, feeling burned out by the job hunt, all that jazz. What you may not know is that I was on Medicaid for almost eight months of 2017, and how much it helped me have a high quality of life while I was unemployed and looking for work. I am still, even though I now have good health insurance through my job, so grateful that I was able to have Medicaid.

Now, I’m twenty-six, able-bodied, and a white woman with a Master of the Arts from a good Canadian university. You might not picture me as the kind of person who might need Medicaid. That’s where you’d be wrong.  I’ve worked customer service, in college cafeterias, taking care of gardens, being a teaching assistant, and could always  find work because I wasn’t too picky, but holy cow did 2017 throw me for a loop.

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In early 2017 I was turning twenty-six, studying in Canada. I knew when I got back to the United States in April I would have to get health insurance somehow- but no longer through my parents. Due to the Affordable Care Act, my parents were able to keep me on their insurances until I was 26. When that expired, due not having a job, and therefor no income, the ACA website suggested I was eligible for Medicaid. At first I felt ashamed, because I never had to rely on any social safety net before. Then I got angry with myself- I’ve been paying taxes since I was fifteen, when I got my first job, and what were they for if not to help people who were having a hard time? For the first time, that included me, and that was okay!

A hard time I was indeed having. My life, when I came back to America, was fraught with money issues. I got a job back at a boutique in my hometown for a month, just enough to keep gas in my car and help my boyfriend pay rent for a month or two while I filled in shifts for my coworkers. We moved to Missoula, Montana so Logan could start his job, and I began searching for one in mid-June. It took four months, everybody. Four months. I applied to be a barista, a dishwasher, to work at a tourism agency. I did get interviews, but interviews that ended with rejections, though exciting and full of hope, didn’t pay the bills. They were progress but not the sort that paid for an oil change for my car or could help me financially contribute to the home Logan and I were living in.

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I walked around handing my resume out to every business I walked into, dressed-up, ready to smile, shake hands, and show that I was hard-working and smart. I looked for free-lance work writing, editing, and photographing. I was on Indeed and Monster and the city, county, and state jobs job boards, sending in applications and always editing my resume, writing and editing letters of introduction, etc. I applied for remote-work jobs at tech firms to write and do research for them. Missoula is notorious for being the sort of place where you have to know somebody to get a job, and I tried networking, getting friends to help me meet like-minded people. I watched summer fade into chilly fall, and felt powerless and pathetic, a jobless blob.

However, Medicaid made it possible for me to get out of bed every morning. I knew what medical debt is the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy. I knew that one fall, one person not paying attention and hitting me with their car, one freak accident could land me with the sort of debt that would destroy every plan I had ever made. The security that having Medicaid gave me to live my life, even while I was feeling so ashamed of my inability to find a job here in this well-educated mountain town, made it possible for me to breathe and do things. I felt safe floating the Clark-Fork River on a tire tube with Logan, watching ospreys catch fish in the river and falling under the spell of the smokey summer sunsets. Medicaid made me feel safe hiking in Glacier or even just walking around town on the long walks that eased my stress. That, to me, was invaluable.

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Medicaid allowed me to see my regular dentist. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam. When I had a really bad cold, I went to a clinic and got a prescription medication for very little money, such a paltry amount that even in my broke state I could pay it. I was feeling defeated in most ways, but I knew that even if something bad happened to my health, Medicaid would make it so that I would end up okay, and that the upward trajectory of my life would probably not end. In the end, I barely used Medicaid, but just having my little plastic Medicaid card in my wallet was so empowering. Medicaid made it possible for me to feel safe leaving my home. I cannot express enough what a weight was off my chest because of it.

I saw that on Thursday some states are going to try to mandate that people who have Medicaid work. And here’s my problem with that- people want to work.  Nobody I know wants to just languish. I once Tweeted that America’s national sport was not baseball, but poor-shaming, and this is another example of that. Financially unstable Americans have been dealing with housing and rent price increases, wage stagnation going on for decades, the backlash of a recession that still ripples through our lives, student debt, and many more issues. Some of us are highly educated people who believed that our hard work in school would pay off, but have too many student loans to build savings or keep our chins up. So many Americans live on the financial edge of ruin. The idea that those of us who use safety nets like Medicaid, Section 8, food stamps, etc. are using them because we just don’t want to work, is absolutely ridiculous. It shouldn’t have taken somebody who has had as many opportunities like me four months to find work, but it DID.

Also, if you have to use Medicaid or Medicare or Section 8 or any other state or federal safety net system, please do NOT feel ashamed. It is ingrained in us through our culture and mythology here in America to believe that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality will make sure that everything ends up okay. The reality that has been proven time and time again is that sometimes even a lot of hard work isn’t enough, and that we have sexism, racism, class systems, and more to reckon with. These things are real and do make a difference in who gets access to opportunities. I believe that there should be no shame associated with needing help and getting it through welfare programs. In fact, if anything, we should expand them, make them easier to access, and encourage people to use them, so that they can afford things they need, and get a leg up, because it is so hard to do so. For me, Medicaid facilitated my ability to job search without being paralyzed by fear that leaving my home could result in some medical event derailing my life. Now, I have a job in a place that helps domestic violence survivors and victims work through our legal system, get housing, and offer them support, options, and advocacy.

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So, to end this post, thank you to the Affordable Care Act for allowing me to stay insured until I was twenty-six through my parents. Thank you to everybody working at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services who helped me get enrolled, who answered my questions, and who made me feel unashamed to use their services. Thank you to the doctors and medical professionals who took me in and took Medicaid as payment for my care. Medicaid changed my life and I barely used it, but just having it there made a huge difference in the quality of life I was able to have.

Tulips, coffee, and snow.

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I got asked what I wanted to do this weekend. “Nothing” was my reply. Proud to say I did very little, and thought a whole lot. Went on walks by the Clark Fork river to see little bird footprints on the ice that remains. Stopped by a boutique that usually has clothes I swoon over- but lately, money has been something I’ve been trying to save, and new clothes are not environment or budget friendly, and so I think I’ll save my cash for some thrifted things from Goodwill the next time I feel like I need a new physical object in my life. 39697840161_d1bfd3b833_c39697844731_71afa22233_c

Logan and I went to the movies, to see “The Shape of Water”, and I cried so hard during that I had to re-apply my eyeliner after. We ate popcorn and marveled at the amazing soundtrack and how Guillermo del Toro created a movie that is so beautiful and strange. We drink gin in a dark, crowded bar with friends. I scared away a man who was attempting to gain my and a female friend’s affections after finding my coat on the floor, because I was looking at a beautiful painting of a woman’s spread legs called L’Origen du Monde, by Gustave Courbet, on my phone. This late-19th century painting is so gorgeous, with rich tones and loving details. The man walked away clearly thinking I was a pervert, and I stated, “you came from one” as he left. Nothing draws in men and scares them away quite like vaginas.

We made breakfast one morning, scrambled eggs and cottage bacon, with strong coffee and watching the snow slide off in heavy chunks from our neighbor’s metal roof. Part of our fence came off due to the weight of the wet, wet snow. I found cat tracks in our yard- we have two cats, one very beautiful and black and smart, one orange tabby that is very stupid, and they seem to like meandering through our yard. We watched a lot of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” on Netflix, and my lust for vintage cars and their curves and impracticalities has arisen again, as it does periodically.

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One afternoon, I wracked my brain trying to think of somewhere to have a glass of wine and read- and came up with nothing. Nowhere in my town has a space that is cozy, private-ish, and serves alcohol. Everywhere is sleek, open, trendy, or too dark for reading. I found myself with a shortbread baked good and a latte instead.

I bought tulips on a whim because we’ve got a minimum of four months of winter to go, and damn the lack of flora here. Perhaps it’s the Dutch in me, but I find tulips to be the best flowers, even if they don’t smell (fun fact thought: the Dutch brought their tulips from Turkey). Even as these red and yellow little things have been in our house today they’ve opened up a tiny bit, drinking in the light that flows in through our big windows.

In short, this weekend was quiet, slow, and not planned in any way. I spent a lot of time thinking about details, observing things, having cold hands, and not feeling the need to get anything done.

Books, mornings, and priorities.

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The other night, as my film scanner hummed, showing me what the chemical baths had done while they danced with my film, a good friend was over and we were chatting about what mattered. Books, travel, good friends, good wine, being kind, and loving, loving, loving. She left here with two books to borrow, and I will borrow a few from her. I’ve been loaning books out more, because they do no good just sitting on our shelves.

I loaned her The City of Fallen Angels, a book by John Berendt, about a mysterious fire in a famous opera house in Venice. In one or more ways, there are characters who are connected, be they corrupt Italian businessmen, old Venetian glass-making families, writers who had boxes there, etc. and he weaves together a tale of an old, eccentric, rapidly-changing but still very traditional city. It was one book that I bought this year and have re-read twice.

I loaned my mother the new book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Kate, who is not a historian, nonetheless went headfirst into doing amazing research to reveal the true stories of the thousands of women who were employed in radium dial painting factories in the first half of the 20th century, and who often got sick and/or died due to ingesting and working with the radioactive substance. Government ignorance, corporate greed, a poorly-working legal system, and the fact that these women were often working class meant that many died before their stories could be properly heard, and many didn’t even know what was causing them to have brittle, broken bones or cancers that suddenly appeared on their youthful bodies. It made me send out many thankful, grateful thoughts to those brave women, and our worker safety systems and legal system are now much more comprehensive because of what these women did. It was one of the books i devoured in Hawai’i, as pictured above.

It’s been snowing relentlessly here, and I’ve been in a more combative mood being inside and working as much as I have been, with little to no sunlight for me to enjoy. However, one of the best parts of my days have been waking up early, getting dressed, packing a book (right now I’m reading Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll by Peter Bebergal) and walking in the snow, which camouflages my footsteps, and making my way in the quiet morning before most people are up, and walking the mile or so to a coffee house to read and hold a hot cup of caffeine in my hands for a few minutes before going to work. Mornings are sacred to me, in that they are quiet, private, and much more likely to be not interrupted by the same going-ons that happen at night. Drunken men unaware of personal space, loud trucks zooming about, groups of people huddled like penguins slowly making their way to a bar or a restaurant. None of that is there in the mornings, and I love the purposefulness of them. Nobody tries to make the world too aware of themselves before the sun is up, and I dearly love it.

Something else I love and miss is traveling. The friend that stayed with us talked about going to France with her fiance this summer, because they both have kept their heads down and have been working so hard for so long, they feel they need to look up, look around, and go do something. I told her she needs to not question it, find a flight, and book it before she can say no to herself. Americans love to suffer, to struggle, and to glorify the two. We take pride being the last sucker at work or the first one in the office. She knows this, and both of us feel shame at wanting to go and spend money on trips and on good food, but I feel that my quality of life is so much better when there is something planned, something to look forward to. Keeping ones head down and just working with your eyes forward means you never get to see as much, and I think that even though we have horrible wage stagnation, most of us have lots of student debt, and most of us will never dream of owning real estate or new cars, that we can still do and live and breathe and thrive. We can thriftily plan a trip across the sea so we can give hugs to loved ones not seen in ages, or buy a nice block of expensive cheese here are there. Denying oneself constantly is foolish, and while last year was a huge exercise in no to such Epicurean joys due to my unemployment, now that I am gainfully employed I feel so much better about going to a nice dinner with my boyfriend, about dressing up or spending a little money on something that matters to me, like saving for my trip to Brazil to see Logan at the end of the year or booking a cabin somewhere quiet.

This post has been longer than I planned, but once I am inside my mind darts back and forth like an excited bird in a cage. I have written about how one has much time to think during the long, dark winters here in Montana, and mine is not immune to that. I’ve been quietly trying to write more and be more generous with my writing, especially here.

A happy accident- shooting with Kodak Portra

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My dearest aunt knew I wanted Kodak Portra film for Christmas.

However, when I opened up the box, out came two beautiful boxes of Portra, but in medium format!

I rarely shoot 120mm film, mostly because the camera I have that uses 120mm film is old and not the most high quality machine in the world. It’s a 70+ year old Argus Argoflex TLR, with a Bakelite body and a not-super-bright viewfinder. Nonetheless, if I am patient, it can give me lovely images that make me quite happy. I knew that I needed to just use the film and take advantage of the fact that this lovely camera I got at a garage sale would never again have such high-quality film inside of it ever again.

If you don’t know, Kodak Portra is considered one of the gold-standard films out there. It’s grain, skin tones, and color are generally accepted to be the best. As such, it’s not cheap. I’ve never myself splurged on Portra, except for a roll here or there, and I’ve always been so happy with how rich the blues are, how perfect the creams and yellows show, and how alive my film feels once I scan it in.

So, here are a few shots from my wee little old camera, armed with some of the nicest film I have ever been lucky enough to shoot. Some moments by the icy Clark Fork, a quiet sunny moment in my favorite bakery, a still-life on our large kitchen table, and waiting for the car to warm up. Unexciting but still real, felt points in time and space.

Montana in reality.

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39555871392_62f6eab42f_c24717623767_97060edd7d_c27808798589_058f140e58_cMontana is a myth. It’s a myth of fly-fishing paradise, quiet valleys all to yourself, the biggest, starriest sky, the friendliest folks, and the Last Best Place. It’s where people like Justin Timberlake and John Mayer come to “find themselves”- which really means, they’ll go to Big Sky or the Gallatin Valley to be around other ridiculously rich people, just in a more rural setting, to play pretend when they drop into a dive bar. A year or so after they come, they’ll produce albums with ridiculous titles, where they’re draped in blankets or something rugged and look like they’ve been busy doing things outdoorsy.

I prickle at all of that. It’s all fluff and disconnected from the reality of a lot of us who dig our cars out of the drifts made by the plows- if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere the plows actually come. It’s de-frosting your car with a hairdryer because freezing rain made it impossible to open your doors. It’s waking up on Christmas Eve to -25F and drinking hot tea like it’s your lifeblood because it’s so fucking cold out. Everybody looks uglier with 4-5 layers on, and hypothermia ain’t cute either. It’s breathing in the forest fire smoke in the summer and accidentally finding yourself hot-springing with people who will later have sex, actual sex, in the hot spring while you’re turned around (which is very rude, and also not sanitary). It’s waking up to the opening of rifle season and having it sound like World War I outside, but it’s really just the first day of hunting. It’s carrying bear spray when you hike because they’re real and out there, and you’re so glad they are. Montana is realizing the sleeping bag you brought is not nearly warm enough in May, because May in Montana is a camping crapshoot.

I say all of this knowing that I have fully fallen under the spell of Montana’s charms. I’m lucky enough to have been raised here. I’ve stared at the sky, come across fresh bear tracks, heard elk bugle, and I’ve seen otters play in the river. But those are precious moments, not normal at all. Something about seeing Montana so totally glossed over, made into something poetic and so #hashtag worthy, just fools you into thinking it’s all craft breweries, perfect campfires, tying flies, star gazing, and downhill skiing with a side of rugged, outdoorsy Hemingway-esque masculinity. In reality, the reason that there is so much literature about this place that inspires others is because you can do a lot of thinking when you’re stuck inside for months at a time. Having such a long, cold, dark winter makes us go crazy in the summer. We relish spring because Primavera is a flighty wench here, gracing us for only a few weeks. Autumn is even more fickle, coming only if she decides to, while Winter may stay into June or come as early as September.

As such, here are some recent photographs from my cheap new phone, of that long, dark Winter. Of us really having to blowdry our car doors open, with two extension cords to get the damn thing all the way out to the car.