I’m not dead! I’ve been in Hawai’i!

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…And no, this isn’t Hawai’i. This is cloudy, gloomy, beautiful early morning Missoula, taken on my way to and around work.

I’m scanning in film. Lots of it. We were on the big island of Hawai’i, spending time hiking, going to botanical gardens, eating good food, and exploring everything we could. We stopped at farmer’s markets and devoured fruit and nuts that we can’t get at home, and spent our evenings watching Star Wars and planning the next day’s adventures.

Before that though, I was still here, still plugging along, doing my thing. We’ve been watching good movies and making excellent pizzas and life has settled into the winter Montana rhythm, where you expect nothing of the weather because it could change in ten minutes. It’s not the worst sort of thing, but it does make me miss sipping a Mai Tai by the sea.

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Thankful.

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This year has been tough. It’s been full of thoughts of failure and regret, of frustrations and complications. It’s been rejection, a lot more than I thought, and a lot of patience.

But this year has also been one of thrills, victories, and love. Getting up at 6 am and writing my thesis, slowly punching out the right words in the morning at my favorite coffee shop while saying hello to the crows I passed in the morning. Walking by the sea, my beloved sacred place, and listening to the waves. Having my dad and Ella visit me there in the spring, taking each to my favorite haunts. Going home and looking at homes with Logan, trying to find somewhere that felt like it would work for us. Struggling with my thesis edits and getting everything right while applying for job after job, only to hear nothing made me feel worthless. Making pizzas with Logan in our kitchen, and eating on our front porch, watching the shadows grow as the sun set in the summer. Seeing movies and walking across the Clark Fork river on the bridge, feeling the breeze on my face while holding Logan’s hand. Hugging my mother and sister when I see them and playing with my mother’s dog. Holding a hot mug of coffee in a booth at Butterfly Herbs.

While Thanksgiving as a holiday is a lot of historical erasure, I still took the day to be thankful for it all. For the struggles and the lack of money, which feels constant. For the love and support I give and receive. For the roof over our head and the car that is still running and for the fact that I am healthy and okay and that it will be okay.

I hope that you had a good day of thanks and that you were able to take a moment or two and think about the good things or hold the ones you love.

Before all the leaves left the trees.

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Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

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A few of them were taken on a beautiful, bare peak high up in the Gallatin National Forest. I remember how a lightning storm came in quickly over the mountains, and it made the air feel strange, and how the rain came down in fat, shameless drops, dribbling down the steep hillside while I ran to the car to escape. I remember being scared and excited by the fast-changing mountain weather, and how with the sunset the temperature dropped quickly. I remember getting my film back and being so pleased with the colors, with the memories they would bring me in the future.

Some others are taken on another part of that massive national forest, up behind Chico Hot Springs. There was a burn area, full of skeleton-like trees, with a creek running through this sterile-seeming landscape, in colors muted by the clouds. My hair was wet and my skin was parched from soaking in the hot springs, and I wanted to lay down and take a nap surrounded by the silence of the place. It was beautiful and so eerie.

I also visited my sister while she was working in Yellowstone breaking up bear jams, ticketing tourists, sharing a cabin with a wicked roommate, and spending time with wolf biologists, who are a consistently strange people.  Some of the dudes offered to share moonshine they made in their bathtubs, and I heard tales of moving dead bison, meeting the oddest visitors, and talking to the wolf photographers who spend their lives following wolf packs in the Lamar Valley. On my way home, I stopped in Livingston to drop off some library books for her (Livingston was the nearest town to Yellowstone with a library), and walked around town for the day, having the most amazing honey peach pie in a little bakery while reading an old issue of National Geographic and buying the second book in the Dune series from a secondhand bookshop. It was a weirdly warm day and the town wasn’t its usual, windy self. I drove around the quiet neighborhoods of the tiny town and marveled at the mountains, taking my time getting home to my apartment driving over the mountain pass. Fat, fluffy clouds abounded that day. It was a textbook perfect day in my mind.

I also spent time in Hyalite Canyon by myself for the first time that fall. I went hiking and found footprints and encountered dogs and hikers and smelled the fresh air as much as possible. Bozeman, while being a money-soaked place that I have come to loathe, has access to some of the best wilderness close by, where moose and bear roam on the National Forest, and where your access to Yellowstone is literally two hours away. It was a joy to be able to hike in the morning with the sun streaming in in the most loving, welcoming way. I remember feeling like I was at peace with the world on those brief hikes.

That’s the tricky thing about memory. As a historian, I have learned that memories change quickly and easily, and are heavily susceptible to fast re-writing and shifting. It doesn’t help that our minds are wired to remember the negative things the best as a survival tool. It’s very difficult to recover from negative memories and to not think about those dark corners of your mind where you’ve stashed all the shit, the sticky, messy tarpit of awful. For me to be able to look at these pictures and not think about somebody is a victory in more ways than one. I did not make these photographs for anybody but myself, and they are mine to reclaim, recover, and enjoy. I’m sharing them with y’all so that perhaps you can, too.

A bit of history in expired film.

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I met Ella on a fall day in 2014. My friend Charlotte had told me that her childhood best friend was moving back to Helena and didn’t know a lot of people, and would I like to meet her? I was working a job where my favorite coworker had just left (thank you Kevin for making the front desk livable!) and had almost no friends in Helena. I said yes please, naturally, because as much as I liked being an introvert it wasn’t sustainable.

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Ella and I chatted for over two hours the first time we met at the Blackfoot Brewery, while I was working a job I resented for money I needed. It was my first fall back in my home town, and I was making my home in my parent’s basement while I saved cash for graduate school. It was almost necessary that I met Ella, because if I had not met somebody I think I would have sunken even further down than I felt at that point. Alone, but unable to be truly alone, and twenty-three, I felt suffocated, terrified, and so, so hollow. My joys were long solo walks around the Mansion District, walking by Romanesque arches and Gothic windows and Italianate architecture that people from all over came to build in Helena, Montana. I found leaf piles beside the Myrna Loy Theater to step in and crunch, and I often sat with a book at the local Starbucks until they closed at 10 pm on weekends (no other coffee shop stayed open after 6pm in my small hometown). Life was dull beyond words, and I felt like a machine. Finding one person who seemed like they could help revert me from my corpse-like state was amazing.

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Since then, Ella and I have pursued adventures of our own but always managed to reconnect. This is somebody I have feverishly danced with, spent hours reading with, and in general feel a sense of kinship with that will always be important to simply because the timing of her arrival in my life was really important. A few weekends ago we finally, after discussing it for a year or two, used a whole roll of expired film I was saving just for making photographs. Ella’s cheekbones are unrivaled and she has the loveliest mouth, and with her Morticia-vibes hair it was so good to photograph her. I want to do it again soon! 36518519464_f9916ba3ff_c37315521871_edbf9681b1_c37458147975_f9b4d724cd_c36518520804_8069a56f8a_c

 

Cloudscapes and thoughtscapes

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Cornbread muffins are cooling on the counter and the smell feels like a blanket. It’s early for a Saturday night but I feel exhausted in more ways than one.

We made pizzas last night and I have finessed two more cover letters to a point where I feel like they communicate what I want: That I’m capable and kind. At this point, it feels like a task that will never end. When will I wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work again? When will I have coworkers? When will that quiet assurance of a paycheck coming into my hands happen?

On Monday I worked for a day for a temp agency, filling in an admin position in an office for the day. It felt good to pack a lunch and spend a day at a desk pretending I knew what I was doing. Poor pay but damn, it felt right to be working again. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, after all.

Life is not just that limbo of unemployment, though it can feel like it. We finally had rain, steady rain that gently soaked everything around it. It was cold and we turned on the heat in our home for the first time since we moved here almost four months ago. I have found a place near our house full of locals who tell each other great stories in the booths there. I have heard men discuss the abstract art market, how to properly care for cattle, the benefits of tea over coffee, and other conversational snippets that are lovely to hear. This week I devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray finally, after having a copy in the house for a month or two now. It was brilliant and sassy and everything Wilde means to me. I have always loved the audacity that Wilde writes with, the sheer wit and breakneck pace of conversation about seemingly useless things driving you to turn each page faster and faster. The ending was brilliant, the book was horrifying, and the dense description was fantastic.

Anyway, here are some clouds I photographed on film from the plane that took me to Victoria about a month ago. The sunset was the most incredible I’ve ever seen, and the clouds and sky were beyond words.

Before the defense

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Last week I went to an interview for a job I thought was going to be awesome but it ended up being not at all what I thought. Halfway through the interview, I was asked, “what is your biggest accomplishment?” and I paused. My thesis. My beautiful, eloquent, hard worked thesis. I knew then that this interview was a waste of my time and my interviewer’s. I called later to have them take my name off of a list. I cried when I got home to Logan, knowing that I wanted more. That aching compulsion to be pushing myself made my stomach feel queasy and I sobbed, harder than I should have.

I defended that beautiful thesis last Friday and I did well. I did better than well. I managed to answer every question, even the odd ones, and I left feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. Hibernation sounded amazing- wake up three months later, as winter comes, and shake the cobwebs off my eyes and start over. But here I am, and it is Monday, and life continues. Except, now I am a Master of the Arts. I can put an obnoxious, little “M.A.” next to my name in email signatures if I choose (I think I will not do this).

Anyway, here are some film photographs from the last two weeks. A quick day trip to Kalispell for ice cream, used books, and terrible sushi. A fiery sunset that my film failed to capture in all it’s glory (but can a camera ever really properly do a great sunset justice?). A few moments lingering on the side of the road with Logan, surrounded by smoke and fire, watching the end of another day. Sunflowers all abloom in my parent’s yard, quietly exuding beauty without knowing it. I am trying, almost desperately, to make moments that will create the idea of a summer that has not, thus far, been fraught with a cocktail of stress, tears, and anxiety that has been almost uncontrollable. If that leaks out into this blog a lot, I cannot help it. But damn, y’all, it’s also been such a good summer. We moved into a house, had some irises bloom that were heartbreakingly beautiful and fleeting, we traveled to San Francisco, I’ve gotten to see friends I haven’t seen in months and years, and life is mostly good. There’s money for food, a roof over our head, and I’m lucky enough to be on Medicaid while I look for work.

What do you guys do to deal with stress and do self care? I’ve always been really good about it but not being able to be outside due to the smoke has made that harder.

Chocolate before dinner.

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It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

A collection of thoughts in a hot, hot summer.

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Everybody told us Missoula would be hotter than Helena. We laughed it off, sure that we would be fine with fans, ice packs, and spirit. Instead, this summer has been one of the hottest in the last sixty years. The heat starts early, seeping in through the open windows which I shut vigorously every morning. It lingers far longer than it should, an impolite guest that traps us in our homes, grumpy and disoriented. My appetite fades or I feel hungry at odd hours, and sleep escapes me frequently. I begin to loathe sunlight and the daytime and consider becoming nocturnal, except somewhere I read that being up at night and working at night fucks with your circadian rhythm and gives you higher likelihoods of getting certain cancers…but then again, at this point, doesn’t everything give you cancer?

At night we hear the train cars crash together as they move, a semi-apocalyptic sound that often shakes the house. We say it is like living on the edge of the world. When we had an earthquake a month back, I woke up because it felt like the trains but more intense. It felt like some primordial worm was crawling beneath the house on it’s way somewhere else..  Now, I often wake at an especially loud crash because differentiating between the rumble of train cars and the eerie sensation of an earthquake has blurred. An emergency kit is being made in my mind but no, we haven’t bought distilled water, flashlights, a medical kit, food, or any of the other recommend emergency things.

On Saturday night we went to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film El Topo. It was a mess of gore, dead animals, weird sexual themes, and beautiful, bleak desert. When we left the theatre, it was cold! The wind whipped and blew up my dress and I held it down, and we discussed how good it felt to actually be chilly. Goosebumps on my arms felt like a soft blanket, and I felt so much more alive than when the heat saps away my energy. We had a drink at Plonk outside, and the wind made the pages of the fancy menu flap and flutter. Nighttime is the only time I feel completely human again.

My state of unemployment weighs heavily all day, every day. The quiet, insistent pressure to be employed and working makes me feel like a worthless soul, even though in fact I am worthwhile, so goddamn worthwhile. Self care in these times is important. I treasure little things, like sharing lunch with Logan, listening to a good record while we make dinner, or having a moment outside early in the morning before the heat, smelling the outside smells, heavier with nighttime moisture that still lingers. Right now, there is a blackberry pie in the oven, it’s smell wafting throughout the house. WordPress keeps deleting my post, so here it is in messy, unedited form. I cannot wait to take out the pie and see the slightly browned crust, having wrestled with cold butter in flour and gathering blackberries while fending off wasps and other insects. It felt so satisfying to be able to make the pie with fruit from our backyard! I’ll be making a post about that soon. Until then, lovely readers!

 

 

 

 

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

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Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.

 

San Francisco on film

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The colors were everywhere. Bits of coral, the blue of the sky, the warm hue of sand, the cool grey of the dense fog that engulfed Adrienne’s neighborhood each night. The smells were different- hot asphalt, whiffs of delicious foods not found in Montana, the sterile yet slight omnipresent stink of public transit, of thousands of bodies inhabiting the same small train cars day in and day out. San Francisco felt like a city that was in the midst of a lot of change. Money and youth everywhere, and yet none of it to be found for many.

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We walked through the park, surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, before breakfast. Logan took a picture of poop in the park with my film camera because he said I was being stingy with my film. We smelled the rich earth and the flora and saw red wing blackbirds and ravens before making our way to the beach.

The beach was engulfed in fog that was slowly retreating, and we walked to meet the waves, letting the edges of the Pacific ocean lap at our feet. The sand felt good in between my toes and I watched as one man in a dark coat walked up and over one of the dunes. The beach felt melancholy and full of gloom, but I loved it. Such spaces are great for letting thoughts wander and unravel and then pulling them back to have new, strange, and better ideas and thoughts.

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We went to the Mission District, which Adrienne had warned us was quickly becoming gentrified. Historically Latinx and Hispanic families have lived there, but as we got off BART we saw the inevitable results of gentrification. We walked a lot around that area and still heard plenty of Spanish, saw groups of school children and church groups outside churches with signs that read, “Jesus te ama”, and I hoped that the people who had been there would hold onto their apartments and stores and churches and habits, but I quietly knew that money and white people were probably sinking their teeth into the area and biting away at what hadn’t been theirs before.

In in the midst of our Mission ventures we found a beautiful, cramped Italian market. One wall was entirely devoted to hanging sausages and I felt myself growing hungry even though we had eaten quite recently. A beautiful wheel of Parmesan cheese sat staring at me and Logan pointed out some meats he had been searching for. We looked at the olive oils and the cans of tomatoes and all the pasta and left because if we didn’t leave soon we would buy meats and cheese that we had no room in our luggage for. We found a Brazilian mercado, and once inside I was the only one who wasn’t speaking Portuguese. People sipped coffee and around us were baskets full of Brazilian cooking ingredients, juices, and random odds and ends like deodorant or romance novels. Logan chatted with the barista and we left to go find a cool place to linger. We ended up at a dive bar with the right amount of sticky counters, grimy interiors, and dark corners and sat down. Adrienne joined us shortly after, and we talked and people watched.

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The rest of our trip was like that- full of lovely places but being quietly reminded that this was a city being inundated with money from tech firms and start ups and that things were shifting and maybe had been for a while. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and do the things only cities can give you- art, diversity, busy crowds and the kaleidoscope of humanity that buzzes and bustles as each one of us carves out our own space in the world in whatever way we can.

Come Sail Your Ships Around Me

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The older gentleman who develops my film cuts it for me and I take it home to hum through my scanner. As the images appear, slowly, I fall back into memory. Film is delayed gratification, a slowly opened gift, a practice in patience and deliberate moves.

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As you read this Logan and I are packing to go to San Francisco, where we will be seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds! Logan got the tickets as our Christmas present in December, and we weren’t sure if we would be able to go for a long time, but in the end the chance to see Nick Cave live was too damn good.

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We’ve never been to San Francisco, and I cannot wait to see Adrienne and explore a new city for a few days!

In any case, here is some film from the last 3 weeks. Sunshine, gloom, bandaged hands from fishing at 4am, old grumpy fishermen, canoeing on the lake, and other delightful moments and things.

The final foray- for now.

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I sit in a comfy plastic chair on a busy street in my new home. Our home is strewn with half-unpacked boxes and we ponder how to decorate the empty walls. Irises bloom in the front yard, making me think of Van Gogh and summer.

Meanwhile, as I look at these 35mm pictures, all the silence and noise of the woods comes rushing back. These wet, saturated, deep woods that fill Vancouver Island have seeped their way into my bones and soul the way that the water permeates everything there: slowly and deeply. The forest floor gives as I walk upon it, layers of decaying wood, leaves, animal scat, and other refuse creating a natural carpet. Squirrels chatter and birds sing, and deer quietly and shyly snack on edible foliage. I hear ducks quietly land on the water and smell the rich earth and look at the way the light changes seemingly every second, casting ever changing shadows into the recesses of the forest. It feels right.