Chomping at the bit with the patience of a saint.

The rain is pouring ferociously, most of the trees already bare, a few stubborn but limp orange and yellow leaves hanging on while the wind pulls at them relentlessly. I am inside my apartment after screwing up the technology of a tele-medical appointment, like the savvy Millenial I am, scrolling through job ads and quietly hissing to myself every time something from Amazon pops up on Indeed.

My current job requires me to do very little thinking. I am more a body for lifting, moving, boxing, scanning, applying, and doing other “ing” things with my physical form rather than thinking, solving, assisting, connecting. I feel lobotomized and extremely sad but I’ve gotten very good at compartmentalizing the sadness. It goes in it’s box during work hours, like kenneling a dog. A job right now is a job. It’s a paycheck. It’s the relief that the little machine at the grocery store check-out says “APPROVED” when I pay for the always-green bananas that take two to three days to become edible and the jasmine rice for weekly curries and beans and tomato sauce and chickpeas.

Victoria feels vicious right now. Over the last few months I’ve had several interviews for everything from glorified secretary work to pouring beer and haven’t gotten a single job offer. Patiently I apply again to other positions, with a cover letter that I hope strikes the perfect tone of professional, just-the-right-amount-of-qualified, and worthwhile for a candidate pool. I wait and try not to get my hopes up too much, just the right amount. Tempering hope is utter alchemy.

I dream about the future. I want out of this noisy building where I can hear my upstairs neighbor go insane, screaming at random hours and pounding unknown surfaces and stomping like she’s partially made of lead. I want a job that doesn’t ask me to wear my body down for minimum wage and asks a small part of my brain to light up, my synapses firing like a neon sign. I want to want to get out of bed. I want to be a good partner, who takes initiative to clean, makes dinner more than once a week, and makes bad days better for both of us. I want to stop wanting, to hibernate like a chorus frog under the ice. What I would give to lie dormant in a frozen pond, not emerging until late spring next year.

I feel the need to do so much less- less hoping, less wanting, less wondering- and so much more insulating, surviving, waiting, using energy in calculating ways like an animal in winter. I suppose in the landscape of my mind there were always pools and creeks that had reserves of resilience, patience, tender blooming forms of hope, that I took for granted to a certain extent. There was always shade to keep them from evaporating- jobs, friends, a working car for a meditative drive, visiting my friends and family, a good boss here and there at work, coworkers who would share a pizza on a long day. Out of necessity and also because of our move to Canada, much of that shade is gone.

Because we all contain multitudes, there are moments where things are okay. Last night I walked home from the cold warehouse in an absolute deluge and my pants were actually dripping water. I turned onto my street, saw the lights on in the apartment, and knew that Logan would be inside. I felt so relieved and happy that he was there, and knew he would think it was funny that my pants were soaking wet and would chastise me for not having a big umbrella and then let me know what we were having for dinner. He did all those things and the familiarity and knowing we share made me feel home. I’m about halfway done with a massive knitting project, an Icelandic peat shawl in a peaceful dark green that reminds me of when I’d press pine needles in my fingers and smell them in the woods. Sometimes at night if it isn’t raining I can hear an great horned owl in a tree somewhere. On the more-and-more rare nice days, we bring a bottle of beer to the sea. I cling to those moments, even though sometimes my world feels so small, brittle, and terrifying. I try to carve out a niche for them to last in, a shrine to my attempts at thriving and forgetting.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. I don’t want to linger too much on how shitty almost everything is, because we’re all dealing with it, but I need to express how small and vulnerable I feel all the time. How hopeless the job search seems. How grabbing my keys and walking to work feels like a massive compromise to everything I have ever worked for and a defeat, but also something I just do, because I have to. These are not quitting times. They are trying times.

Time is very much an artificial construct.

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About two weeks ago I finally got a roll of film from my Pentax K1000 developed. It was from when we first moved here, in late December or early January. As I scanned the negatives I felt like the photos quietly sitting, wrapped around the spool in the roll, were taken yesterday. Logan with shorter hair (has it been that long?) up in Rocklands, where we looked out over a grey winter sea and wondered how everything would pan out up here for the two of us.

2020 is a halcyon year, un-tethered to everything we know. I know, that’s an understatement, and everybody has been pondering their own version of “what the actual fuck is 2020” but mine is both slightly bitter and yet incredibly grateful for the luck and the timing.

We moved here months before the island shut down, but not that many months. We have an apartment that is on the affordable-ish side (as close to affordable can be in Victoria!), and somehow I managed to wrangle myself into a full time job that pays horribly but is pandemic-proof, so money is regular and we can budget to keep ourselves with a roof over our head. I apply for other jobs often, because what I really want to do is write or photograph for a living, but not worrying about unemployment is a big burden off my mind. Luck and serendipity, with a dash of determination to get here, because it was where we wanted to be, even if at work things are hard and my body is tired and bruised.

I sold Logan’s old Buick before we came up here, so we are car-less folks, with two bikes to get around on. A few weekends back we sprung for a rental car for a night to go camping and sleep in our tent, my first camping trip in British Columbia. It required some learning on my part. I thought I had pretty dialed in fire-starting skills! The wet BC firewood proved me wrong. It took over an hour for both of us to get a spluttering, unwilling flame to consistently keep us company. A resentful fire didn’t stop us from enjoying the woods though.

It was Logan’s first time in the woods around here. It was my first time in almost three years being back. I forgot how dense, damp, and pungent they were, the smell of soil efficiently converting decaying matter into fertilizer, saplings battling one another on a tree stump, the lofty calls of birds from trees incredibly tall, wide, and regal. We woke up to the sound of a barred owl, unmistakable, with it’s typical “who-cooks-for-you”, although at 4 am I was less appreciative than I could have been. Back home in Montana meadowlarks start to sing this early too, and I miss their warbling call fiercely.

We got up early, cleaned up the campsite (Leave No Trace y’all!) and headed to the Mystic Beach trail. We got lucky- nobody else was on the trail, and I greedily drank in the sights, smells, and touch. The slight squelch of mud on the trail, the light streaming in the way it does in Gothic cathedrals in Europe (forests are known as North America’s churches for a reason), basking in the velvety qualities of the sun and the moss and the ferns. There is nothing like being on an empty stretch of trail in the woods.

There was a heavy mist on the beach that filtered into the forest. The sea was so loud, cascading incredibly amounts of water up and over and up and over and onto the beach again and again, the salt heavy in the thick morning air. We steered clear of the areas near people who slept on the beach in their tents, and marveled at the scenery. A Romantic painter in the mid-1800s could have hardly done the scene justice, and my film camera didn’t either. The array of colors, subdued and made softer by the mist, was gorgeous. Everything felt cloaked, slightly mysterious, and a little more wild. People who were starting the Juan de Fuca trail walked past us and I mentally wished them well. Maybe someday we’ll have the gear and the strength to do it ourselves!

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Lately I’ve been re-watching anything that Anthony Bourdain did. If you’re going to weather a pandemic trying to be inside, you may as well let your mind wander, and nobody takes you around the world and makes your stomach rumble like he did. The world is a less interesting and loving place without him in it. His curiosity was not burdened with ego or ideas of superiority over any culture, food, or place. Rewatching the episode of his Layover series in São Paulo took me right back to getting to eat at Mocotó last January, eating the calf-foot soup that gave the restaurant it’s name. I remembered the gelatinous, rich texture from the cartilage and fat in the soup, the salt, the amazing flavor. Pretty good for a Sunday night inside, right? Thinking about a meal that you loved, in a place so utterly different from your own, eating a meal that Bourdain himself praised for all the right reasons?

One thing I haven’t done in some time is make the self portraits that have documented my times here. My grandfather’s death, seeing an otter family, celebrating our good fortune, grappling with the loneliness of getting through all of this- I am trying to build a visual record of how I felt and the serendipity of early mornings. Over the years as a photographer I rarely was the subject. Now that I’ve got more time and privacy I can do those things but I haven’t had the energy lately. Some black and white film came in the mail and I really want to do a series about hands.

Anyway, at the end of the day I hope that even if you are human and allow a tinge of despair or melancholia to infect you, keep your chin up. Wear a mask. Be kind. Go touch trees and listen to bird songs and breathe.

Notable black Montanans: Part one of black history in Montana.

As a Montana historian I think that because Montana is overwhelmingly white and our collective history is overwhelmingly devoted to masculine narratives (boring) our education systems do not talk about the Other nearly enough. The Other means just about everybody who isn’t a straight white man. The thing is, those stories are not only incredibly interesting, but very important. If you can’t picture a Montana that was full of immigrants, queer folks, black people, indigenous people, Latinos, etc. you can’t fathom their realities in the present and future. We’re a state with a history of being full of people from all corners of the earth, with complicated pasts and widely differing value systems, who made efforts to build communities, have families, make a living, and define themselves! And it was NOT just the rugged mountain man, the independent cowboy, or the long suffering homesteading couple in their sod-roof house.

Right now with a big social and societal push for immediate action and justice for black lives, I wanted to write a series of posts about some notable black residents, publications, societies, etc. and also some links to other resources. I was raised in Helena and not once did I have a class where even a fraction of our time was devoted to learning about the black experience in our state, so I am starting from scratch. Join me! (Let’s be clear: I will make mistakes.)

I attached lots of hyperlinks to other great sources because all of this is knowledge I’ve pulled from various archives, newspaper articles, black history resources, etc. and so you can go do your own learning!

This is just part one, by the way, so please be patient. I started out with some notable and interesting Montana residents but I think I need to flesh out more contextual information in the next post for these folks to fit into.


Since white dudes have hogged the “rugged individualist man” trope (le sigh) let’s put some black men in there, because you better bet they were there!

Let’s talk about James Pierson Beckwourth! 

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Image via BlackPast

James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1800- 1866) was apparently known as far as France for his adventures in the American West (oui oui!). He lived for several years with the Crow (Apsáalooke) nation, participating on raids against the Blackfeet, learning the Apsáalooke language, marrying an Apsáalooke woman (or two, depending on your source), and having adventures that make me want to have a beer with the man and just listen.

He was a trained blacksmith born into slavery around 1800 (sources differ on his date of birth). His white father technically owned him (just in case you didn’t know how shitty slavery and the laws surrounding it were), but freed him at some point. Most of Beckwourth’s Montana adventures occurred after the 1820s, while he worked with the Apsáalooke nation. When he wasn’t there he was getting a mountain pass named for him in the Sierra Nevadas, running a store in Denver, being a professional card player in California, or trapping just about anywhere in the West that had fur-bearing critters. He is the only black man who had his adventures in the West published under the grandiose (and glorious) title The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians in 1856. (The link will take you to a Wayback Machine copy of the entire book.)

Beckwourth dictated his life story to a Mr. Thomas Bonner who was working in the California gold fields in the 1850s and one wonders how much Bonner’s hand had in skewing some of Beckwourth’s words (there’s a lot of power you have as the writer of something being dictated to you!) . Beckwourth’s book, while successful, eventually became dismissed as the far-fetched tales of a big-mouthed black man by white readers. Meanwhile, white men could tell the same stories (whether truthful of not) and be taken much more seriously! James spoke at least two or three languages fluently (if you’ve ever seen Apsáalooke written out, it doesn’t seem like a casual language you just pick up), traveled thousands of miles on horseback and on trains, probably got away with his life by the skin of his teeth more often than we can know, but still had a lot of his stories written off as fables.

It’s important that if we’re going to continue to glorify the “intrepid mountain man” trope (as Montanans can never seem to NOT do) that we include such larger-than-life characters as James Pierson Beckwourth. Black men were just as adventurous, determined, creative with their tales, and hard-living; we just don’t have as much testimony about their experiences. This is purposeful: keep in mind that the reason men like Beckwourth aren’t as well known as Jim Bridger and the like is because they were kept out of narratives or telling their own stories by multiple, strategically placed barriers. Today Beckwourth’s book is considered a valuable primary source for information about the US Army, the Apsáalooke people, wildlife, geography, and information about diseases!

Mr. Beckwourth died in 1866 in Montana. He was working for the US Army leading them to an Apsáalooke outpost when he died, and some believe he was poisoned.

Mary Fields 

Mary Fields Photograph via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Ursuline Sisters Archive in Great Falls

Mary Fields with the Cascade Baseball Team Photo via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Wedsworth Memorial Library in Cascade

Mary Fields (1832-1914) is something of a folk legend if you live anywhere around Great Falls. She came to Montana around 1885 after working for a convent in Ohio. She traveled on the Missouri River and worked at St. Peter’s Mission near Cascade, Montana. While she got along great with the nuns, Fields was apparently fired by the bishop because she swore, smoked, and had a strong temperament (this means she probably spoke her mind). Instead, she became the mail deliverer between the Mission and the town of Cascade. If you know anything about Montana winters (they tend to be at least six months long, vengeful, dark, and incredibly cold) the idea of delivering mail for a living in a horse-drawn cart every day sounds as fun as walking on prickly pear cactus without shoes, but she did it, and very successfully, for years. She was likely paid terrible wages and it was hard work. She was one of the few women in the nation given their own mail route, although I doubt that it felt like an honor some days.

This excellent article speaks up about the loneliness and lack of respect that Fields experienced, despite her hard work and kindness towards her fellow Cascadians. She wore men’s clothes frequently,  was tall and not slim, and lived outside of ideas of womanhood. She was the only black resident in Cascade, and as such very visible (while also being somewhat invisible, in that she was probably limited in how she could talk about her experiences or relate to her neighbors). While collective memory has turned her into a hardy folk hero, a determined gun-toting badass who got the mail delivered, loved baseball and a hard drink, she was also a black woman living alone. Fields made a living in a community that was small, insular, and took advantage of her labor and very much held onto stereotypes about her. (She was apparently a caretaker for lots of the children in town, but how much of that was because her white neighbors figured she could do it because she was black vs. because she wanted to is unclear.) We also don’t have any of her own words to reflect on, as if she left any letters . She died in Great Falls in 1914 after moving there in her old age.

P.S. Apparently she babysat a young Gary Cooper. He had such fond memories of her he wrote an article for Ebony magazine in 1959 about her! I can’t find the article online but it is mentioned in many of the sources I used. .

Samuel Lewis 

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Samuel Lewis’ home in Bozeman today. (Via Google Street View)

Samuel Lewis (1835-1896) is perhaps just slightly less famous than his internationally recognized sculptor sister, Edmonia Lewis . (Edmonia’s life story is incredible, and you should definitely read about her sculptures and her life, but alas! I must stay on theme!) Lewis, who was born in Haiti, came to Montana to be a barber after working in Idaho and California mining camps. Upon his arrival he was one of less than 10 black residents in Bozeman, and became incredibly successful in his own right. He passed through Helena for a bit but eventually settled on Bozeman as his home.

Lewis came to Bozeman in 1868, and was the right man in the right place at the right time. The town was about to experience a surge in growth, and his barbershop, located on Main Street, was well-known and respected. His reputation and business grew as a result, and he invested his money into building rental homes and funding his sister’s education (which paid off- she studied in Rome, worked in Paris, and lived in London for much of her life and became famous for her talent with marble). In 1884 Lewis married a local widow, Melissa Bruce. She had six children from her previous marraige and she and Lewis had one son, Samuel E. Lewis. With his successful business ventures, Samuel Lewis proceeded to built a beautiful Queen Anne Eastlake style home very close to downtown Bozeman today.

The Lewis house is still beautiful and standing (and Zillow estimates it’s worth over $1 million dollars!). It’s right near Bogert Park in Bozeman, and Lewis and his wife are buried in the local cemetery. The house fell into disrepair after Lewis’s wife’s death but a couple bought it in 1975 and fixed it up. One of the owners apparently has become an Edmonia Lewis researcher herself! (Check out this neat Bozeman Chronicle article, but don’t get too mad when you read that they bought the Queen Anne mansion for only $40,000…)

When Samuel Lewis died in Bozeman one of the pallbearers at his funeral was the mayor. He made Bozeman is home and was a beloved member of the community. I wanted to talk about Lewis a little because one of the things we as Montanans need to do is also value the stories and lives of people who weren’t larger-than-life or folk heroes. Samuel Lewis was important because he was one of many successful black business owners in Montana! While he was definitely far more successful than most (he died with a fortune of $25,000 to his name) he was not unique.

Note: I could not find any photographs of Lewis. This is frustrating because as a wealthy local business owner he in all likelihood had quite a few photos of himself, his family, his home, etc. and what probably happened is that his son inherited all the family photographs. Unfortunately, this son died without having any children of his own and it doesn’t look like any libraries or archives have any of Lewis’s letters, photos, or other materials ( I will keep looking!).

P.S. I did read in one article about Lewis that he was supposed to be a world class musician but can’t seem to find what instrument he played! 

Rose Gordon and Taylor Emmanuel Gordon

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Rose Gordon with brother Taylor Gordon in White Sulphur Springs. Image via http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

This brother and sister duo both wrote memoirs about their lives, which were intense and busy, though only one of them got their memoirs published. Taylor (1893-1971) made a name for himself during the Harlem Renaissance, had a long musical career, and even had airtime alongside Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. Rose (1883-1968) stayed in White Sulphur Springs, became a vocal local historian, physical therapist, outspoken political candidate, all while holding down at least four jobs at a time, all the time.

The Gordons were part of a large family of six siblings and two parents. They were part of a small black community in White Sulphur Springs, a small but busy mining town. Rose was the valedictorian of her high school class and gave a speech called “The Progress of the Negro Race”, which was inspired by the ethos of Booker T. Washington. Unfortunately, her and Taylor’s father, John Gordon, was killed in a train accident in the 1890s, and it fell on Rose to make money for her family. Rose tried repeatedly throughout her life to pursue medical training, but never became a doctor because her family needed her and she never got the time to go away to college. One wonders what her life would have been like if she had been able to carve a few years to herself, because it’s apparent that she had an incredible work ethic and drive.

For fifteen years or more, she tried to get her memoir, Gone are the Days, published. In between writing, pitching her memoir, taking care of her multiple family members, running a cafe, and working as a seamstress, she found the time to become a Swedish massage therapist and naturopath. Diet and exercise advice in Meagher County? Chat with Rose Gordon! Need some physical therapy after you did something to your back herding cattle? Call up Rose! Need a homeopathic tincture? Rose will make one! She seemed like White Sulphur Springs’ early life coach, physical therapist, and naturopath all in one!

On top of all this (aren’t you tired just reading how much she accomplished?!) she was Meagher County’s best local historian. She had not one but two columns in the Meagher County News paper. She also pissed off locals by running for mayor in 1951, and even though she lost, she refused to stop her campaign despite threats. She remained vocal about her experiences as a black woman up until the year of her death. Perhaps most notably, of all the columns and articles she wrote, the one titled “My Mother Was a Slave”, published 1955, is as Dr. Michael K. Johnson notes, “the only published first person narrative of nineteenth-century African-American migration to Montana”. This article evidently talks about the idea that going West was, for many former slaves, one way to re-invent themselves (a theme that presents itself in many other narratives). Rose’s life ended up being devoted to caring for others, and even though she wanted more for herself, she refused to be silent or complacent.

Her younger brother, Taylor, went East as a young man and sang in New York. His timing for arriving was in sync with the Harlem Renaissance and in the 1920s he was having a successful run working with J. Rosamund Johnson. In an article by Barbara Behan she notes that W.E.B. DuBois said “No one who has heard Johnson and Gordon sing ‘Stand Still Jordan’ can ever forget its spell” after they sang at Carnegie Hall in 1927. Two years later Gordon published Born to Be, his memoir of boyhood in White Sulphur Springs. His sister was back in Montana, her memoir never published. Gordon’s book was relatively successful, but his musical career mostly ended.

Taylor Gordon tried to get a second book published after his musical career waned, but was unsuccessful. He battled with Viking Publishers for a long time, and experienced a mental breakdown in 1947 after spending World War II working in a factory, and spent at least the next twelve years largely hospitalized in New York. He returned later in life to White Sulphur Springs. He played a few live shows there, made occasional appearances on local television, and in one source I read made a living by having an antique store. He outlived his sister by three years, and his papers are today held by the Montana Historical Society (although they are not digitized which is a shame!).

White Sulphur Springs today has less than 1,000 residents. It’s not a destination for most people (although the brewery there is awesome) and while if you drove through today you might wonder why a black family would choose to setttle down there, you have to remember that when the Gordons moved to White Sulphur Springs in the late 1800s it was a small but busy mining town. Small towns get to make their own rules and communities more than large cities, so in pop-up mining towns like Virginia City (hint at a future post!) and WSS, you get a community that may have been more flexible and welcoming to it’s black residents.

….

This is the end of Part One. I only mentioned five notable people! This article took 12 hours of research over two days. Again, this is a learning experience for me too, so let me know what you’d like to see, what I can do better, etc.! Thanks so much.

BTW, while you’re here consider donating to the Montana Racial Equity Project! They’re an amazing racial justice non-profit in Bozeman that do state-wide work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Behan, Barbara. “Taylor Emmanuel Gordon, 1893-1971” BlackPast, 18 August 2016. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gordon-taylor-1893-1971/

Ferguson, Mike, “Historian: Though few, African American’s mark on Montana is ‘indelible’ ” 19 August 2016, Billings Gazette. https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/historian-though-few-african-americans-mark-on-montana-is-indelible/article_3c7c9028-243d-5d5b-afc1-dc5ee0005651.html

Hanshew, Annie. “The Life and Legend of Mary Fields”. Women’s History Matters, 8 April 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/

“James Pierson Beckwourth” http://beckwourth.org/Biography/index.html 

Johnson, Michael K. Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West. Univeristy of Mississippi Press, 2014.

“James Pierson Beckwourth: African American Mountain Man, Fur Trader, Explorer” https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/digital-colorado/coloradohistories/beginnings/james-pierson-beckwourth-african-american-mountain-man-fur-trader-explorer/

Pickett, Mary “Samuel Lewis: Orphan Leaves Mark on Bozeman” originally from Billings Gazette http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/haiti-archive/msg11004.html

Ravage, J.  “James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1805 – 1866)”. BlackPast,  https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/beckwourth-james-pierson-c-1805-1866/

Walter, Marcella Sherfy, “Rose Gordon: Daughter of a Slave and Small Town Activist”. Women’s History Matters, 18 February 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

Other Resources:

Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature by Michael K. Johnson

Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier by John W. Ravage

Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West by Michael K. Johnson

“Montana’s African-American Heritage Resources” https://mhs.mt.gov/Shpo/AfricanAmericans/ResourcesResearch

Eruteya, Glenda Rose, “Racial legislation in Montana 1864-1955” (1981). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, University of Montana.  https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=9660&context=etd

Michael K. Johnson has a now-defunct WordPress blog where he posted research into the Gordon family! https://taylorandrosegordonproject.wordpress.com/ 

Thoughts of a mole woman.

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What is there to write about? The slow, molasses drip of time which suddenly shifts into something similar to the time I tried to ride a horse and it began galloping and I just held on screaming for dear life? I feel like I’ve just gotten off a long flight all the time; a bit disoriented, tired, but hopeful that the trip was worth it.

Right now I work in a windowless basement and joke that I am a mole woman who emerges after my shift, blinking and stupid for a second while I adjust to whatever is happening up there. The other day I came home and Logan mentioned it had rained during the day. I shook my head and told him I didn’t know, and he thought it was fucked up that I worked without windows underground, hidden. I think it’s fucked up he’s taking seven (!) classes online from an ancient brick of a computer at an Ikea desk in our living room. Split the difference?

For some reason, being a mole woman in a windowless world suits the times. Most of the rules about normalcy are gone and the baby definitely went with the bathwater this time. I, the mole woman, emerge up the stairs in the hallway that perpetually smells like stale urine (I have no doubt it is urine), slowly coming to terms with the real world after standing on my mat for seven hours, sending children’s books to desperate parents in Manitoba.

When it’s not a day where I am required to descend underground in exchange for a less-than-living-wage, the alarm goes off at 4:45 am. It is early, but the light outside is already bright. I walk quickly to the sea, hearing birds already fussing and gossiping, crows hunting for breakfast, and the slightly creepy sound of the heron rookery that is in Beacon Hill Park. Tents litter the park right now, and I don’t mind them. The people who live in the park right now need it. There are clean bathrooms, garbage cans, and potable water. The city hates the homeless, wants them to disappear, but where can they go? Victoria is a city of insane wealth; I walk past yachts in the harbor daily, pass Aston Martins outside the butcher shop,  but I also walk past a kaleidoscope of colorful tents nestled in the sequoias and hydrangea bushes. Most of us don’t realize how short the path to homelessness actually is. It is scarily short, especially in our world of student debt and income inequality and wages that haven’t been raised in decades.

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I’ve been trying to spot the family of fat, slippery looking otters that emerged the day after my grandpa died. I don’t know if the universe actually sends you signs, but seeing this healthy, beautiful family of otters slip up to their den to sleep the day away felt like a hug from the world, and I haven’t gotten one since. They become more and more nocturnal as summer creeps closer, and instead of otters I’ve been encountering people, vectors of plague like myself. Seeing people before 6 am in public is unpleasant: the people who are out and about are up to be away from fellow humans, and we run into each other the way territorial animals do in the woods. I recognize this and usually don’t offer any more than a nice “good morning”. The response rate is not above 50% for the reason I mentioned above. I do not begrudge anybody their silence.

After meandering around, taking pictures, looking for otters and oyster catchers, I drop any film I’m done with at my local shop and head home. Logan is usually still asleep or just getting up, and I make us coffee and we start our day. Technically we could now go to a few restaurants or pubs but I feel pretty firmly against that, just because it’s not okay. As somebody who has worked in the service industry, who makes low wages right now, I couldn’t go and sit somewhere and pay for a meal that isn’t to-go. It still doesn’t feel right. If I did, I would only go in if I could leave like a 40% tip.

Instead, I meander to the cemetery, get groceries, and take the bus back. This trip brings me great joy- I am discovering so many interesting dead people, with beautiful graves and lives surely worth hearing about. I found Eliza Day and a Nick Cave song played in my head. I found Sierra Nevada, the product of some hip parents who surely named their kid after the mountain range before it was cool to do things like that. An infant, Lulu Victoria, has the most beautiful headstone all alone, her parents nowhere to be found, and now I walk by hers specifically to wish her well. These are the kind of relationships you can build during a pandemic, and by now many of the headstones are familiar to me. Cemeteries have always been some of my favorite places, and right now they draw me in even more.

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How are you all doing? I hope you are faring well, eating plenty, sleeping enough (is sleep a darting, flighty thing for anybody else right now?). I’ve got to go file a missing package notice with the United States Postal Service. Some things, mundane as they are, do not change even as a racist rapist runs my country into the ground and people die while others cavort at parties and murder their grandma. I watch from afar in Canada, where people are particularly smug about the lack of virus and lack of a far right nutter as their leader. I benefit from their health care system and general shit-together-ness though, so how mad can I be?

An obituary of sorts.

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Last night we stood under a rookery of great blue herons, their babies hungrily crying out from the sequoia trees high above our heads. Apparently in a few weeks they’ll jump from tree to tree, stretching their wings and practicing flight. I wondered what would happen to the ones who fell from such heights.

I missed a call from my mom while we stood under those trees, my mind in morbid territory worried about the precarious future of those heron babies. I knew it was the call when I saw it later. My mother confirmed this when I called her back. My grandpa had finally passed. My mom was doing the chores you do after a death; everybody had to contacted, told of the plan, and comforted. Women are usually forced by cultural expectations to be at least moderately proficient at comforting and doing the senseless chores that must be done after any great drama or event. My mom does not deviate from this formula.  She is prepared. She’s had seven years to ready herself for his passing. The first time my grandfather went on dialysis marked the beginning of his final act. Most of the seven years he was in dialysis he was in pain, but too fearful of death to stop letting his blood be taken out, cleaned, and put back into him, a gruesome and artificial process running against the grain of nature.

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My grandfather was in the Air Force, a sturdy young man in a uniform, lucky enough to enlist and serve between the Korean War and Vietnam, something I always wondered if he thought about. After learning how to work on planes there were few things mechanical that seemed difficult to him.  I always hoped that someday he and I would fix up an old car together. My grandam and he took my mother and uncle on cross-country road trips in their Volkswagen bus, camping all over the place. They raised golden retrievers. My grandfather was particularly fond of Americana sweet treats: Snowballs and Peeps especially. One day I drove him in my old Saturn wagon that had been his sister’s (a true old lady car that fit me, as even in college I felt beyond my years) over MacDonald Pass in the summertime to the car museum in Deerlodge, housed in the old state prison. He gleefully told me all about the cars there, and pointed to a Studebaker that had curtains and told me they were ideal for taking your date to the drive-in movies, wink wink. I had never seen my grandfather even hint at the idea that sex existed so it was great seeing him loosen up and laugh in that dank and weird (but amazing) museum. We went to the A&W drive in after, just the two of us. I remember him encouraging me to speed on the highway, because wasn’t I supposed to be a reckless young person? He took the photo below with me outside the prison, one of my favorites of him, on my old Minolta film camera.

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My grandfather loved being a grandfather before he started getting sick. He delighted in us, four granddaughters in all. There is a photo of him holding me after I was born. I was the first grandchild so I was thoroughly spoiled by all parties through no fault of my own, and in this particular photograph he is beaming and proud. He built me this magnificent chair in the shape of a tiger sitting upright, and it was my constant companion as a child (apparently I fed it oatmeal often). I still have a stool he built for me, “KATE” painted in bright, cheery letters. When we eventually move somewhere permanently both things will come with me. They’re marvels of handiwork and love. He expressed love in building things and fixing things, so when his hands got too shaky for him to use tools or write I think he fell in on himself a little. I know that he is not the only man who is like that: handy and useful then slowly more and more useless, stripped of what made them proud and brought them purpose and joy. Still, even when he didn’t feel like himself, he made dark jokes about how there was so much gold in his mouth that we had to get his teeth out before he was cremated, because the funeral home would have a small fortune on their hands! (We did not do this, sorry Grampy.)

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My grandfather is hopefully wherever he wanted to be. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife but I think he did, and hopefully he is somewhere peaceful, where his hands work and his mind can fly. I love you, Grampy.

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P.S. I asked to inherit his massive, massive Kodachrome slide collection, part of which I had digitized a while back. I will hopefully keep digitizing his photographs and sharing them. He had an artful, beautiful eye for light and shadow, and Kodachrome’s moodiness fit his vision perfectly.

 

Tide pools, self portraits, and podcasts.

I’ve recently begun making more and more self portraits with a slightly banged up Olympus OM-1.

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I got this particular camera after my beloved Olympus OM-G died (I went thru two bodies in about ten years). I am rough on my gear- it often sits in my purse or hangs off my shoulder and I would be lying if I said I was a delicate person in any way, so the fact that a lot of my photo gear has…ahem…character…is not surprising. After OM-G No. 2 kicked it, I went to my favorite store in all of Montana: The Darkroom. The owner, Michael, is one of the kindest people I know in Missoula. He processed every roll of film I shot in Montana for the last four years, and better yet, he sells used photo equipment, and doesn’t try to cheat you on price at all. He is fair, knowledgeable, and if you’re lucky, you will spot him ripping up the dance floor at the Union with a lucky partner- he is a great dancer. If you’re even luckier, you might get to meet his shy and sweet three-legged cat named Gitzo, after a Japanese tripod brand (if you don’t find this lovely we can’t be friends, sorry). He sold me the Olympus OM-1 I still use to this day.

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The trusty old machine is working hard, documenting picnics and cemeteries and early, 6 am walks around Victoria, before people are out and about. In our small-world, mostly-inside happenings, seeing a river otter last week was The Big Event. He was fat, sleek, and beautiful, with a fat fan of whiskers. We had just eaten some sushi in the nearby cemetery because it was…well, frankly, safer than being near the still-busy beach. Once the sun started to go down and people started dissipating, we went down to the beach and saw a little head emerge from the water, and soon an otter emerged!! WOOO ANIMALS! Can you spot the otter in the photo? I didn’t have a zoom lens and didn’t want to get too close and bother him.

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Besides the otter and tide pools, I mostly photograph Logan. On the beach, in our apartment, on walks, wherever we are, and I remember when he was in Brazil and I was in Montana how much I missed photographing him. It’s good to be stuck together during a global pandemic, as weird as it is to go from a year and a half of long distance almost straight to quarantining together with only a few months in between of normalcy. I’m so grateful to have a partner in crime, somebody to eat the things I bake and help do dishes and bemoan that somehow, there is an incredible amount of laundry built up in one short week, and that yes, we do need to go grocery shopping, as complicated as it feels right now.

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What are the things that are keeping you sane, hopeful, or grounded right now? What are you listening to? What recipes are working out for you? For me, this recipe for a Dutch baby (basically a fancy, eggy pancake in a cast iron pan) has been so satisfying to make. It’s simple, takes almost no time, and is absolutely delicious. The Guacamole song by Kevin Johansen, a (rather handsome) Argentinian musician, is full of good memories from college and my dear friend Hillary showing it to me, and after that the random algorithm often leads me to some decent Argentinian music. We recently watched Julie and Julia on Netflix, and ever since I’ve been imitating Streep’s “Oh, Paul!” whenever Logan comes into the kitchen while I’m making something. (I also bought The Art of French Cooking months ago and mean to make a chocolate Bavarian cream soon.) I come back to Karina Longworth’s “You Must Remember This” podcast over and over, and if I need to cry the Carole Lombard episode will always get me. It’s so well written and dense with facts, but Longworth presents all the information she digs up in witty,  subtly light ways that trick you into thinking she’s built some frothy universe when in actuality it’s more of a carefully constructed powerhouse of information about Hollywood, the film industry, gender roles, the economy, fashion, and expectations about sex, bodies, money, and power. (Cheers, Karina, you badass!)

Thanks for sticking around this weird, often abandoned corner of the Internet. I’ve had this blog since I was back in college, and it’s changed a lot with me. It feels good to come back to it right now though. Stay safe and well, as always.

Weird Words from Wednesday

Post from this Wednesday that I forgot to actually publish:

Today I felt my teeth in my mouth with my tongue and registered how crooked they’ve slowly become, despite wearing a retainer every night religiously since I was 16. It is particularly sexy to pop in your retainer before sleep at the age of 29, my friends, trust me. I remember my orthodontist telling me he could take off my braces early if I just wore the retainer…and now, my teeth have shifted. They’re not terribly crooked but they’re not the $5000 smile my parents scraped together for. I felt bitter and small today, once-pliable but pathetically shriveled, with my mildly crooked teeth and minimum wage job, despite wearing my retainer and working hard for a master’s degree, both feeling like slightly broken promises. It was a pity-me day, where I wanted to cry about things that right now aren’t worth crying over.

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Then I went to the Japanese market on the way to the park, stopping in to get a soda and a little red bean paste mochi and a bag of snacks for a friend. I tipped even though society doesn’t dictate my need to do so, but we’re all struggling and if I feel like I can spring for a $3 soda I can surely leave a tip for a cashier. How neat would be it be to be wealthy enough that if I wanted I could leave $20 here, there, anywhere for people working right now? Fuck, I’d leave $100 if I could. This city is rife with money, I walked past an Aston Martin outside the butcher’s shop the other day and a Mercedes that tricked me into thinking it was a Maserati with the grill this morning on my way to work (you know these things after living in a posh Swiss city for two years).

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My friend was waiting at the corner of the park after I left the market, dappled sunlight coming in through some trees, and it was strange not hugging her. We walked, awkwardly watching our distance, and found a little meadow to sit in near some daffodils and a thick bush where a few small birds huddled inside, protected and rustling around. She was accepted to Cornell for a PhD program and one of the first things I asked was if they gave her a decent funding package, because if I know anything (other than how to bake a decent pie and spout useless facts) it’s that you never, ever go into a PhD program that isn’t guaranteeing you decent funding, in writing. She’s brilliant and hard working and thorough so they gave her a good funding package, as they should. Later I wondered if that was something I’d want to go after.

Here’s the thing. Right now, we’re all talking and thinking about what we will do when this is over. I already knew that by spring 2021 I needed to have a decision about a PhD program made. The fact that somebody I deeply admire got into a program and is actively going to change their life’s trajectory by pursuing it makes me tilt my head in that direction, tipping my cap at them but also getting ideas. Is that something I want? Or do I want to try and get out from under this shit-wage thumb that’s holding me down? Do I want to pursue a career? A lot of us are blessed with options, which we end up seeing as a curse, in a world where options are often few, skimpy, and more a devil’s bargain in one way or another. I’m lucky to feel like a withered empty shell on more days than I’d like to admit, because I get the time and space to be a pissed off little crab. That’s a lot more than most people get.

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It was wonderful to sit in the park and talk to somebody who isn’t my boyfriend. I love Logan but he’d agree with me that other people are awesome. It was weird to sit a bit farther apart than usual from my friend, but it was grand to see how the sunlight hit her face and have the weird lilts in conversation as we’re the first people we’ve social distanced with other than our partners in a month (and my coworkers, but seeing as we can’t really do any after-work bonding, it still feels weird to consider that socializing). I missed talking to a fellow historian, a friend, on a warm spring day. It was balancing, normal, comforting.

On my way home I called Costco. A poor, horribly busy woman answered and helped me get contacts shipped to my apartment, even though she was handling all the phone calls at the store that day, and I wanted to give her a hug. I wished her luck before hanging up, and while I know that in Canada it’s a stereotype to be nice, she wasn’t just nice- she was kind. She helped me, was honest about how busy she was, but never once made me feel rude or even a bother. I bought fennel, tomatoes, garlic, and some chestnuts at the store on my way home, dashing in and out quickly. The chestnuts were random- I remembered the smell of the roasting chestnuts in the piazzas in Lugano in the fall and winter, and what a weird time that was in my life; a naive American girl trying to pretend I was graceful and glamorous in Switzerland. Right now is a damn weird time too, so why not impulse buy some chestnuts? I’ll report back on the results.

Things are strange and today was a sad day with a happy ending, and hopefully the rest of the week isn’t quite so emotionally fraught. I hope that you are all doing okay right now, maybe not thriving (that feels too optimistic and almost flippant) but getting by and finding ways to smile and feel joy. Joy is a scrappy friend, we need to hold onto it.

Maybe I am kind of sad.

What do I write about right now? How there’s a knot in my stomach and the trees outside the apartment are finally decked out in leaves and there is one spectacularly feisty robin with a nest nearby that viciously harasses the squirrel that my landlord feeds?

I saw a Northern flicker yesterday on my way to work. It hid behind a boulder when it saw me, but I was still able to see the flash of rust red and the distinctive black speckles on it’s chest. I’m still working, in an old basement with hexagonal tile floors and a bathroom straight out of the apocalypse, with a ceiling that leaks questionable, smelly liquid. We’re working a little too close together to be considered truly safe, but we’re all in it, and we’ve been doing this for long enough that the motto has quietly become, more or less, a version of fuck it, we’re in too deep now. We have all joined in an unofficial agreement to not do anything remotely sketchy outside of work. I’m going to a park tomorrow with a friend to talk from a distance and it is the closest thing to a transgression I can imagine.

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We’re all writing deep things and have profound thoughts right now and I wonder how much of our own content is read by others or even considered. Are we collectively burrowing deeper into ourselves more than ever right now? Things feel creepily close to normal for me, because I still get up every day, make coffee, and trek to work, past the shuttered businesses I miss patronizing, especially the really lovely couple who run the Sushi Express in the arcade near my workplace. I force myself to dress decently for work, even though I’m in an ancient basement working in a shipping department that stays remarkably freezing.

On Friday morning I got up at 6 am because I knew my soul needed it. That was the point of moving here, right? For the mornings, early and isolated, by the ocean to soak in the salty air and the ocean breeze and look at the enormous cargo ships far off shore in front of the Olympic mountain range. This Friday, bobbing in the tide, was the headless and tailless corpse of a harbor seal, with multiple holes from being eaten. I couldn’t tell how it died. The tailbone jutted out from one end of it. Seagulls lined the rocks nearby waiting for the body to beach itself. I hadn’t ever been this close to a live seal. It didn’t feel disrespectful or sacrilegious to get close to the body, to photograph it, to notice what was there and what wasn’t, even though humans are really weird about death and dead things and I’m sure people will feel negative things about my photographing it and sharing a photo here. It was a dead body of an animal that hopefully had a long and vital life, and it was being recycled every step of the way, as we were all meant to be, and I just happened upon it. I felt like a child finding a dead bird in the yard, with all the why and how questions, wondering if it felt pain as it died, how lonely it would be to die in the ocean (though isn’t death ultimately a solo experience no matter where it occurs?).

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I walked to another enclosed beach area, warning a man with a dog about the seal, imagining our long-dead dog Cooper getting ahead of me and finding it before I could stop him, and how he’d found deer legs and other animal parts at my parent’s home all the time, and got so, so sick. Then I picked up sea glass, hundreds of tiny pieces, finding blue and green and brown pieces, some old and extremely pitted, others still clear and young, relative babies. A precious, rare, purple piece presented itself to me after my legs and back started to ache from crouching over the sand and it felt like a reward. I had found purple glass only once before, at an old hot spring resort in Montana.

I realized my thoughts were running together on the beach, turning into a fast-moving creek, too fast to see the shapes of the rocks and snags under its surface, and I was so glad that I’d left my own head. We’re all a bit in our heads right now, obviously, and it’s been hard to take leave from my hyper anxious brain. Books have been a good escape but nothing beats doing things I have done for years: collect sea glass, go on walks, feel the needed perspective of smallness: my existence is insignificant, in the grand scheme of most things, and this brings me some comfort. It doesn’t feel as shitty to go to a job that makes me feel like crap, and to feel worried and sad all the time, because when I go look at the ocean, I realize that most of these fears I have, largely linked to late capitalism and exacerbated by a pandemic, are not noticed by the tides and the moon hanging in the sky and the great blue heron wading for breakfast.

Until next time. I hope you are all safe and loved and have access to what you need right now.

Been seeing me in your dreams?

I think a lot about the women who wore the vintage clothes I have. There’s a 1930s maid uniform that fits me perfectly that came to me stark white. I tried to dye it black but it turned out blue-grey, which is fine by me. I imagined the life of the woman who was probably underpaid and overworked who wore it- it wasn’t deadstock, so somebody must have worn it, somebody my size, 80+ years ago. Knowing how hard being a maid still is, how you’re more likely to be sexually harassed, taken advantage of, and be invisible, makes me hope that whoever wore this uniform found better prospects for themselves.

Yesterday this sheer blue dream came in the mail. She’s perfectly imperfect, and if you love vintage clothes you know that part of the joy is discovering the personality and quirks of your clothes. They’ve lived too, right? They’ve been on living, breathing bodies, bodies that sweat and wear perfume and spill coffee and get mud on hems. Previous owners wore these clothes to go to parties, work, on dates, maybe experienced heartbreak in them- the imagination can go wild, and that’s partially why I love these clothes. What occasions did the previous owner find herself in while wearing this dress? One of my favorite films of all time is “His Girl Friday” (1940), in which the incredible Rosalind Russell delivers sharp barbs at a mile a minute, witty and confident and beautiful portraying a toughened newspaper writer (the title of this blog posts is from the movie). This dress makes me think of those fast-talking, sharp women, who hold cigarettes in alluring ways and set their hair and wear nice lipstick. Maybe, through some weird osmosis, some of that perceived grace and cleverness will come to me!

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There are other dresses I’ve got that make me feel this way. There’s a late 1930’s black velvet number that is sumptuous, very uncasual, and intimidating. I’ll wear to breakfast because I can. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it, all from other women, mostly because I think we see each other dressing for ourselves, and recognize the joys of doing so. The dress is not sexy, it’s a bit scary- no showy neckline, no high hem, something that I fall into spells thinking about. What was the previous owner like? I own enough vintage dresses that surely somebody who was quite a wench owned one of them!

While I’m here, here are some of my favorite online vintage shops. Know your measurements before buying vintage (waist, bust, hips, and shoulders)! It makes the process pretty painless and super fun. There is also a decent amount of plus-size clothing out there these days, because even back in the day not all of us had 24″ waists! Don’t be discouraged by your size, it can be harder to find but larger clothing is out there!

Strange Desires– she has an eBay store but you can also DM her on her Instagram. She finds the most gorgeous and also interesting pieces, from hand-knit wonders to liquid silk dresses.

August Anne Vintage– I found Kate’s store after finding her Instagram after finding her now-defunct fashion blog (the internet is WEIRD y’all). She works really hard to find these pieces and if you’re into romance, whimsy, and also quietly-cool-girl vibes she’ll have something for you

Thief Island Vintage- Ella somehow finds the COOLEST and sturdiest pieces! I’ve got two dresses from her, both outrageous and delightful and loud.

KidSheets Vintage– Mollie not only has the world’s cutest/best haircut (a pink bowl cut) but she posts the most amazing OOTDs on her Instagram. She finds everything from 1940s evening gowns to suits.

Guermantes Vintage– If I ever randomly get thousands of dollars of fun money I’m spending it in her shop ASAP. She finds museum-quality gorgeous lame, cocoon flapper coats, 1930s satin evening gowns, the kind of clothes that make you cry because you don’t have $800 to drop on some scandalous beach pajamas!

And with that, I’m back to applying for jobs! Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Montana (Again)

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I’ve left and come back countless times. It was only two suitcases when I moved to Switzerland, brand new Samsonite luggage from a Macy’s sale that made me feel adult, even at 18 with baby fat still on my face. The whole back of a large Chevy truck was reserved for British Columbia, with a chartreuse velvet chair, mattress, bed frame, an old trunk from the 1970s, and way too many books. Once again, I left Montana for British Columbia, this time sharing the back of a smaller truck with Logan, divvying up space for all the things we felt we needed.

Every time I leave Montana, I don’t look back- at first. This time, moving in the winter, I felt relieved to leave the treacherous roads, isolation of the cold, and the far away promise of green for a proverbial and actual land of plenty, where the sea gave us warm weather, flowers in January, and other bountiful benefits. Getting on the plane for Victoria, I thought “Montana will always be there”. Thus far, this has been true. I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

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Already though, I miss working at my brewery. I miss the bustle, the Friday night line to the door, seeing regulars like Larry and making sure they had a beer ahead of the line. I miss tasting the new beers, seeing how a new keg pours, gathering old glasses and getting them into the dishwasher, giving my coworkers-turned-friends shit and ending the night tired in a way that made me sure I would sleep well. My arms grew strong working there, and I loved being on my feet. I took pride in keeping that brewery clean, in talking about the beer we poured, asking Jeremy, the resident beer savant, questions like this:

Q: What is the difference between a porter and a stout?

A: Not a whole lot. (They’re both medium to heavy bodied dark beers with roasted malts and a lot of potential flavor profiles, i.e. you can have coffee stouts and coffee porters, chocolate porters, chocolate stouts, etc., although there are particular beers to each style that are special, i.e. an oatmeal stout which is historically considered a “vital stout” that was supposed to buck people up when they were sick.)

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Anyway….you can tell I loved the brewery. I miss Leann, Becca, and Cody a lot, even when Cody yelled “GOOD LUCK” across the bar when you’d say you were running to the washroom. The money was good, the pace was quick, and even when people were drunk or rude and yelling at you, you’ve got coworkers who are there for you. There’s a collective sense of purpose: Get. People. Beer. Nice beer, mind you.

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My last month in Montana was full of diner visits, specifically to The No Sweat. The corner booth, where wise old plants that have been growing there for years almost lean over you, was the best. Having way too much coffee and subsequently talking a mile a minute over amazing hashbrowns with people you love while watching snow slowly fall over your beautiful little mining hometown: That’s a good morning. Thrifting, packing, seeing Australian friends you haven’t in a while, absorbing the moments because you know you’ll miss all these people terribly, filled all of my time when I wasn’t working.

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The biggest part of the last month in Montana, though: picking Logan up, finally. He’d been gone so long I showed up at the Bozeman airport sure it was a fluke that he was actually going to land, and when he did it was surreal. I didn’t know what to do with myself, seeing him be surprised by the cold, putting his luggage in the old Subaru, back in the land where we met and had our first home and made so many memories, a place we’d be leaving in a few short weeks, but it was all layered over with adrenaline and relief. We hiked Mount Helena the next day, had a beer at Blackfoot River Brewing Co., and enjoyed the weirdly warm November.

When it was finally time to drive to the airport, I cried the most about leaving my cat behind. Coe is my girl. She napped with me and told me ALL about all the things she did during the day (ate plants! puked up said plants in the living room! saw birds out the window! slept!) and I miss her blue eyes and picking her up. When we had to leave I cried all day holding her and she got mad about all the attention and hid. We knew it would be hard to find an apartment we could afford that would allow cats so my mom is keeping her and is being regularly annoyed by the nighttime screaming (I imagine Coe is having existential issues regarding being an indoor cat) and the plant destruction (also existential in nature, I assume).

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Now, we’re here. In Victoria, trying to make it all happen. Wish us luck, because our hearts tend to turn back to Montana without being able to control it, and moving is, as I have previously mentioned, The Worst and I’m trying to stay in ONE PLACE for more than a year or two.

We moved to another country.

All the public schools and universities are cancelled today. I don’t have work, so Logan and I are having an impromptu snow day together. I’m making this amazing winter vegetable galette, so fennel, beets, butternut squash, and carrots are roasting with some olive oil in the oven right now. The smell is wafting around our small 60’s apartment and I watch as people struggle to get through the wet, icy snow outside and feel glad we didn’t bring a car to Canada.

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We moved, somewhere I hoped wouldn’t be snowy but has thus far been snowy enough Logan can make jokes about leaving me because of the snow. (I may or may have not sang false promises of a snow-less, seaside town that would bring us both calm and ease of dressing.)

VICTORIAAAAA!!!

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We’re here, baby. We got an apartment in two days by viciously contacting every listing on Craigslist and taking the first one that approved us. The lobby of our old building smells like stale cigarettes and cooked chicken but we live on another floor and it just smells like new paint up here. I can hear the upstairs neighbors stomp around, and I already feel like a cartoonish version of myself, flipping a middle finger at the shoddily installed wooden floors that allow me to hear every footstep above me, wanting to grab a broom and slam the handle against the ceiling and yell like a cantankerous old woman. Morally, though, it feels much better to live in a slightly weird old 1960s apartment building than some upscale, ridiculous gentrified high rise that displaced people. I’ll take the chicken-smelling lobby over a place that asks $1700 for a 400 square foot one bedroom apartment that has one window and left some people worse for wear fending for themselves.

Logan started school full time. I’ve started a job hunt full time, working part time at a clothing store while I look for something that hopefully won’t suck out my soul. An archivist job was up but I didn’t get it, c’est la vie. I’ve moved around so much that it’s hard for my resume to look impressive- a lot of one or two year stints here and there, then moving again. Something will come up eventually (I hope!).

Moving is The Worst. The absolute Worst. My blessed mother, who should be a saint but isn’t Catholic, drove her truck full of our stuff up here to British Columbia from snowy Montana. We managed to pack our entire lives into a bed of a not-enormous truck. Books, clothes, dishes, and all. Art, too. No mattress, no furniture, nothing big, leaving behind so many things that carried memories but couldn’t fit.

Sleeping on an inflatable mattress in our new place was fun for a bit. We refinished an old oak table from Value Village. We have two chairs, a mattress that came the day before Christmas (best present EVER), two dressers, a table a downstairs neighbor gave us, and some dishes. That’s it. There’s a cooler in the living room full of books. Our 4 person tent is propped in the coat closet. We are living in the most ramshackle fashion but it’s great, because it’s our ramshackle fashion in our apartment, and I cannot express here how much I missed living with Logan.

The stress of job hunting has driven me to bake more and more. A few nights ago, to test drive Logan’s birthday cake, I made Gennaro Contaldo’s red wine chocolate cake in a bunch of ramekins, because I don’t have a cake tin yet. Long walks are a thing again, trying to get all my thoughts out of my body and finding that the only way is by pacing, climbing on rocks, looking at the ocean and feeling humbled. I feel so lucky to be back here, this time with my partner in crime, but all the luck we’ve had scares me. Two people can’t get this lucky, I fear and feel. I knock on wood a lot, and felt so happy when Logan hung a devotional by Saint Benedict in our room that his grandmother gave him. I’m not religious but I am superstitious and all the love and protectiveness of such things can’t hurt.

When I’m not trolling for employment there are books to be read. We live a few blocks from a branch of the public library and I’ve thus far devoured Deborah Blum’s fantastic “The Poisoner’s Handbook” for the second time. There’s a hefty history of the Italian mafia that eyed me from the library shelves now sitting on my bedside table, and a book about the history of surgery has taken up residence here too. Historical nonfiction is my beat and I can’t turn away! Is it perhaps because I not-so-secretly want to write something nonfiction someday and am just trying to absorb good prose, ideas, structuring, and such through osmosis? Maybe!

In any case, seeing as I am very under-employed right now, you might see more writing here. I missed this blog, it’s been a part of my life for so long now.

Thoughts from São Paulo

It’s 2 degrees outside. Fahrenheit.

Montana, it’s only October, would you mind waiting until December to do this?

I am firmly planted inside, wearing thick socks, hoping that my car will start for me to get to work later. In the meantime, I dust my negatives from Brazil in Photoshop and think back on my two trips there this year.

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First, I never imagined that in my life that I would find myself as far South and a place as foreign in my mind as Brazil. It wasn’t until I was seriously dating Logan that the reality that we’d go down there solidified. I’d eventually meet his family and his friends back home, wouldn’t I? I couldn’t imagine what it looked like, smelled like, what Portuguese really sounded like. What sort of animals would I see? Is it really that hot down there?

After spending over two months this year there I can firmly say that I love spending time there. By there, I mean the state of São Paulo, or south-central Brazil. Brazil is a huge country, roughly the size of the lower 48 states in the USA, so making big generalizations is foolish and sloppy. It’d be like bunching people from New Jersey and Wyoming together, which Americans know would be strange and potentially hilarious.

That being said, a few things became apparent to me.

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Most people are friendly and helpful. Not everybody (because they’re HUMAN), but most folks we met seemed genuinely stoked to let me try my sloppy, weird gringa Portuguese. I went shopping by myself in São Paulo for a few hours and all the stylists I met were funny and kind. I was able to ask for what I wanted in my size, ask questions, and reply, and while I know I speak like a child right now, I loved interacting with people. When I met Logan’s friends, a lot of them spoke really good English but those that didn’t were still so kind to me, even though I had a hard time communicating. We went to see a few bands at Al Janiah, and after one of the bands was done, Logan asked them some questions and then introduced me to the women in the band. I never once felt like somebody was annoyed by my questions or my slow pattern of speaking.

While at university in Switzerland that was not my experience: most of the Swiss people I met were too efficient and didn’t want to make the time for me to practice my Italian (I had one man literally say “it will be faster for us to just speak English” at a market in Lugano). It was frustrating going to bookshops, clothing stores, the grocery store, etc. because most people didn’t have the time or patience to let you stumble through. The thing is, in order to learn a language you NEED to stumble. My Portuguese is not great but it’s not bad, either, because I have been able to practice with real people on the ground, make mistakes, even embarrass myself a little (a lot).

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The food scene in São Paulo is unparalleled. It is a city of 20 million people and there are immigrants from every corner of the world. You want to eat Middle Eastern food in a Palestinian restaurant that has a staff made up of immigrants and refugees and later see an all girl punk band? (Al Janiah!) You want to eat incredible Thai food in a tiny joint where the owner speaks more English than Portuguese? (Thai E-San Restaurante) Do you want to eat Michelan-starred oxtail soup, mocoto, tongue, intestines? (Mocoto!) Do you want a meal that will make you need to nap for four hours after? (Feijoada will do the trick, it’s a specialty Wednesday and Saturday at a lot of restaurants.) Are you an expat from the States looking for a good burger and fries? (Meats or Hamburginha!) Are you just STARVING but also lazy and don’t want to walk more than a few blocks? São Paulo is the city for you. We ate dim sum, Lebanese food, comida de Nordeste (northern Brazilian food), a fabulous French dinner, classic kilo meals, hamburgers that were perfectly medium-rare with buns fluffy as clouds, and lots and lots of juices.

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There is more art than you can imagine being made, everywhere, by everybody. São Paulo is a massive city but everywhere we went on the metro, in Ubers, etc. there was street art. Giant murals, small tags (one particularly memorable tag all over the city said “Rice and Beans and Ganja”), epic landscapes, portraits, social criticisms. A stairwell hidden in the Pinheiros neighborhood memorialized Marielle Franco, who was murdered for being an outspoken female politician who loudly protested police violence and was probably shot by police. Live music, while hard to find, is there and flourishing. Jewelers, leather workers, painters, and ceramic artists have their works in so many galleries, shops, and markets.

We went to a few markets and I bought some gorgeous earrings made from imbuia wood by a wonderful artisan, a leather bag handcrafted by a wife-and-husband team, and had to steer away from the dozens of other stalls because I didn’t have that much money. São Paulo is also home to MASP and the Pinacoteca, both of which are world-class museums, one devoted to art from all over the world, the other completely focused on Brazilian art. Brazil is full of artisans to this day who do things in slower ways. Logan’s grandparents have a front door made of rosewood from a long time ago that is carved with beautiful flowers, and textured glass windows that I’ve seen nowhere else. Entire buildings are covered in tiles (tile and cement are big because they help keep surfaces cool in the omnipresent heat) and there are small companies in São Paulo that make tiles for homes in centuries-old ways. Art seemed to be woven into so many things everywhere we went, and the art historian in me felt so happy seeing it all.

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I have so many jumbled and half formed thoughts about my time there, but one thing I feel wary about is writing about the bigger situations and issues that are going on in south-central Brazil. There are similar parallels to the States in that young people can’t get good jobs, wages suck, a lot of people still live at home, there’s police violence, racism, sexism, and very real fears of climate change and the future. However, I don’t speak Portuguese well enough to be able to do these parallels justice and talk to people who live these experiences in the deep ways I want to.  I’m not prepared to paint complex social, political, and ethical issues in broad strokes without more research and talking to people who live those experiences. Even talking about Brazilian food delves into race, history, social structures, and class structures (a lot of what we think of as Brazilian dishes are Afro-Brazilian in nature, for example). With time, research, and patience, I would like to learn so much more about south-central Brazil, because I’ve gotten a crash course in traveling there that I don’t think many people get, thanks to Logan. 

 

A Sabbatical of Sorts

Six months. I didn’t meant to let this blog die, but it did. I built a photography website, had a few shows, started working at a brewery, camped alone and with friends a few times this summer, and spent a lot of time reading and brooding.

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Brenna and I went to PonyFest in Pony, Montana and watched live music and camped out in a local park. It was peak Montana hip summer.

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I camped alone for the first time ever and had a blast making the fire, pitching the tent, and while I didn’t sleep a wink it was liberating to sleep alone and wake up in the pitch dark, pack up camp, and have Yellowstone to myself for a few hours.

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My mom and I kayaked on the Lolo National Forest and had a blast watching herons, camping on Seeley Lake, and roasting potatoes in tin foil in the campfire with butter and onions. (It takes a while but if they sit for a while in the embers the skins will get perfectly crisp and the inside will be buttery and hot.)

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Ella and I escaped from the world at Boulder Hot Springs, a century-old resort with beautiful rooms, and chatted, ate nice cheese, and heard the rain fall through the window at night.

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In spring I hiked alone quite a bit, watching the flowers that are slow to bloom in Montana reveal themselves, week by week. Things are slow to come alive here but when they do you must revel in their presence.

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A few trips to Missoula, which will always be tinged with a bit of painful nostalgia for me. I miss the life Logan and I built here, even if it was for such a short time. It’s hard to go back and go to places that were special to us and know that such a beautiful, exciting chapter of our lives is over (although we have more adventures up our sleeves!)

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My favorite creative wonder has been making semi-regular trips up to Montana from Colorado and we always make time to catch up at The No Sweat, a 1970s no frills breakfast and lunch joint that goes overboard with coffee and charm.

I know nobody really blogs anymore but I am somewhat firmly attached to this old beast. I’ve written as The Photographist since I was an undergraduate and my life has gone in such different directions than the young, naive Swiss-living Montana girl I was back then that abandoning this blog permanently just doesn’t feel right. Does anybody else have nostalgia and loyalty to mediums like this, even though they aren’t so popular anymore?

“My beer hand is cold!”

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With daylight savings going, it’s finally dark out past 5 pm. Katie and I took advantage of this, stashing a few beers in our packs, extra clothes, and sturdy winter hiking boots. Katie brought Yak-Traks, which are really an essential Montana tool, but I just trusted that my heavy, large hardy boots (they’re good to -20F with the right liners, and are 15 years old) would do the job (they did).

We got to the top of Mount Helena on the 1906 trail within an hour! In some places, the snow had drifted, and with the warming temperatures it had become heavy, slippery, and easy to sink deep into. We kept on trekking and even saw a nutter trial running in shorts! (This is actually not that abnormal but I’ve become more and more cold-sensitive and now that just seems insane to me.)

The top of Mount Helena is always windy, but it was amazing to be out and active. Katie and I kept marveling at the feeling of fresh air, of moving, of hearing the wind blow through the trees and seeing the sun glint off the snow. Sometimes winters here can feel never-ending, and cabin fever sets in, even if your car starts and you can get around town fairly easily.

I can’t wait to hike some more- it really does feel like the earliest of early signs of spring, just the fact that it’s finally above freezing some days brings me hope!

A Wounded Little Beauty

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I bought this slightly wounded 1930’s hand-made embroidered creation sight unseen off eBay from my favorite vintage dealer Strange Desires. Vintage is nice that way- you have your measurements, and you know if it fits or not before you buy it, because the way vintage is sold is by measuring the clothing items. There’s no wondering if a size 10 will fit or if you need to move down a size.

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When this beauty arrived, I immediately set to work reinforcing the stitches on the snaps, re-sewing the hem and the sleeves, and checking to make sure the existing stitches were sound. It took me a few hours, as I’m no professional seamstress, but I’m proud of how it came out! She’s ready to wear sparingly and proudly. Whenever I acquire something vintage I always wonder what the lives of previous owners were like. This dress is almost 90 years old, what was her owners’ lives like? Why did they choose this fabric? Where was this dress originally made? Maybe its’ the historian in me, always searching for more information no matter what, but I also just love imagining that whoever wore this previously did so with purpose and love. (Such a romantic, unrealistic thought, but I have no evidence to the contrary now, do I?)

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