One step at a time.

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I’ve been struggling a lot these last two weeks to keep my chin up. I see systems of hate, sexism, and violence that have stood the test of time continue. This week, after the #MeToo flurry, I wrote an emotional piece on not being able to trust men to believe and understand what women go through. I re-lived my traumas inflicted on me by countless men this week. I read horrific stories by friends and acquaintances, and I saw so few men acknowledge their place in all of this: complicit as Hell.

It’s been one of those weeks where you have a painful doctor’s appointment and a job interview, peppered with a couple of job rejections. Real-life shit, the stuff that’s no fun to read on a blog. This last weekend, though, we went on a long walk into the park and looked at all the fall leaves and heard that satisfying crunch beneath our feet. We drank hot coffee and picked out peppers hot and mild at the farmer’s market. I cried a lot and the house smelled like garlic at night as Logan made dinner. I helped him assemble a zucchini lasagna. We got some stuff stolen off of our porch and that was pretty shit, but our front yard currently harbors thousands of brightly colored leaves that came down in the last day or two of wind. I’ve been trying to do my best and know that if I keep working hard and applying a job somewhere will come up, because I have no other options.

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Things to think about.

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  • This VERY IMPORTANT CAN YOU HEAR ME YES YOU IN THE BACK conversation about sexual harassment in academia, the silences that departments and professors keep, and the lists and whisper networks (phrase from the incredible Jenny Zhang) that students keep to protect ourselves and each other. In light of the Harvey Weinstein bullshit, which came as a shock to NO WOMAN, I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns of sexual harassment.
    • I’ve been made aware of creepy professors with known reputations before. I’ve been warned and cared for. Not by my department or professors or staff but by students who saw what was happening and let me know to be careful, to limit my interactions, to be watchful, and to be prepared.
  • This incredible interview with a strong woman who terminated her pregnancy at 32 weeks, and the Hell that is getting a late-term abortion in America.
  • The wit and pander that is Hungry and Frozen, a clever food blog of very do-able meals with a plentiful heap of hilarity.
  • Been thinking about how badly I wish I had a job so I could afford to splurge on a beautiful bottle of Galliano and just sip it and watch the world change outside my window.

At the end of the day, here’s what we all need to do:

BELIEVE SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE

IF YOU ARE A MAN BE WILLING TO CONFRONT TOXIC MASCULINITY AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR COMPLICITY IN SEXISM AND HARASSMENT EVEN IF IT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. BEING UNCOMFORTABLE IS GOOD. 

#WorldTeachersDay: In memorium.

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Hieronymous Bosch, closing panels of The Garden of Earthy Delights triptych. 

We moved to Montana when I was in second grade. I was skinny, awkward, and spent my days buried in books and authoring things on cheetahs, because cheetahs were the goddamn coolest animals to ever exist. My parents put me through lots of aptitude tests, which determined that I should skip a grade to continue to be academically challenged, but I was socially behind my peers due to my shyness and propensity for hiding with a book. Talking was hard with people my age, and making friends was absolutely terrifying.

Third grade came. I was assigned to be with Ms. Marcella Burke, a boisterous red-headed teacher who was so full of encouragement and love for us all it was sometimes overwhelming. I was young, too young for my memories to stand on their own in some ways, but she made me feel like excelling wasn’t nerdy or to be frowned on. She rewarded us with trips to meet important politicians such as the lieutenant governor and the governor. She had us put on plays, and we memorized lines, worked hard, and took pride in what we did. She spent her own money to buy things to reward us for our hard work, even as a single mom. She reminded us that every one of us had so much to offer the world, no matter our background or our challenges.

Ms. Burke was a proud Butte-born Irishwoman who talked about being bullied as a kid and being called “Marshmallow” instead of Marcella. I remember her as being inspiring and tall, even if she was in fact short. She made me proud of myself, and I wanted to make her proud in return. I remember losing my front teeth that year, and being dressed in horrible sweaters. It was the first time I remember being bullied as well, and feeling frustrated and ugly, something to be teased and remarked on. Books were my refuge, and Ms. Burke’s classroom was as well. She encouraged me to keep reading, and after school had ended, she invited my mother and me over to her house in early summer in a neighborhood nearby to talk to my mom about me, about plans for me, because apparently Ms. Burke saw something. Ms. Burke had recently been to Ireland and brought me back a postcard with the Gaelic alphabet on it, which I still have, and several coins, all in a beautiful white Irish lace bag. I ate brownies and sat patiently while they talked, because adults needed quiet sometimes. What I didn’t know was that she was already getting sick. Ms. Burke stopped teaching the next year or the year after, and she died in 2002 due to ovarian cancer, which my mother told me gently. I don’t remember my reaction, but the idea that she was no longer on the Earth was so foreign to me. How could somebody so intelligent, sturdy, hardy, and loving, ever leave?

Although I was young, too young to thank her in the ways that I wish I could, to this day I remember feeling like Ms. Burke saw something in me that nobody had yet. She saw somebody with potential, who was too smart for their own good and too awkward to show it in any way that mattered. She made me feel that my love of learning and reading were normal, and she assured me that I could go anywhere with literature. I wish she hadn’t died so young, and I dearly wish I could thank her for everything she’s done for me. I still have the coins and the postcard somewhere, squirreled away as mementos to a remarkable woman who made a serious impact on me, even when I was young and not necessarily paying attention. Marcella Burke, you incredible soul, I am so glad that you graced my life at a time when I really, really needed it.

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

 

I am a Master (of the Arts)!

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I defended my thesis on August 25, 2017, in Victoria. My defense happened in a bland classroom, with my friends and family present while my thesis supervisor, my co-supervisor, and my external examiner asked me questions varying from fun to dreadfully difficult.

But I DID IT! I defended my thesis! 

27,000 words.

97 pages.

18+ months of research, writing, editing, tears, questions, failings, and early mornings in coffee shops trying to tap into my best historian.

Getting an M.A. was not easy. The last two years I was lonelier, more anxious, more stressed, and more unsure of myself than I have ever been. My degree was full of welcoming, warm people that I still struggled to connect with. I had mental health issues that required therapy, long walks, and acceptance of the situation at hand.

One of the most darkly hilarious moments occurred in my first semester. I was living alone in a wicked apartment, but couldn’t find a reason to leave it. One day, after emerging outside after three days cooped in, I realized that I had no friends in town and that the only way anybody would know I had died would be only after my body began to stink up the building. Shit, I thought, it’s time to make some fucking friends. 

I wasn’t dating Logan yet when I began my degree, but he came to be a huge influence on keeping my head above water, as we both experienced our own struggles and cheered each other on. I also spent hours by the ocean and in the Ross Bay Cemetery, lingering in quiet places where the world continued to go on without me. This might seem scary to some, but I found the rhythm of natural things comforting. It wasn’t necessary for me to read the whole 400 page book I was assigned in a week to still see the leaves change, to smell the rainy mornings, to hold a cup of hot coffee and appreciate it. I learned how to temper the pressure of the degree, with it’s vicious pace and difficult, open-ended questions, with my own pace.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned, apart from how to write, edit, research, and be a more thorough historian, was how to be alone and utterly at peace with my solo existence. I loved being alone, as it allowed me a certain degree of anonymity. I could sit with a book at a cafe and hear the grizzled old dudes at the table next to me make fun of Trump, or go on a long walk and pet dogs as they came up to me in the dog park. I wasn’t anybody important and I wasn’t threatening. I could merely be. That was honestly the best.

Now, I am back in Missoula, surrounded by smoke from the wildfires and looking for work. But, I can do it knowing I have accomplished something that was terrifying, challenging, and exhilarating! It feels so good.

Hike to Hidden Lake

35964873586_855a03e704_c35964872496_f265bba2df_c35195516913_c0ddae99fc_c35195513933_0bc71ddbd7_cI brought two canisters of bear spray with us and put them in an easily-reachable outside pocket on my pack. A few weeks back we had met up with some friends and one of them recalled being charged by a grizzly bear on their first day backpacking in Glacier, and how they hadn’t grabbed the bear spray fast enough. Luckily, the grizzly had merely done a bluff charge and veered off into the woods, away from them.

Not my idea of a good time, I thought, so I brought more than one canister. We also packed water, sunscreen, and snacks. As we got to the Logan Pass Visitor Center I checked that we had everything and got out. The parking lot was full, and the Center was swarmed with tourists, many in flip-flops, learning about this incredible part of the world.

As we walked on a trail behind the Center, somebody noted a mother grizzly bear with two cubs in the distance. I pulled out my binoculars and peered out, seeing her calmly making her away across a grassy knoll with her two cubs in tow. It was beautiful to see them from a safe distance, where we weren’t bothering her and she wasn’t making us nervous. What I do like about bears and most other wild creatures is that they, honestly, don’t want to hang out with us either. They want to mind their own business and go about surviving, something that in many parts of the world is harder due to human encroachment and climate change.

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We began hiking to Hidden Lake, but part of the trail was closed due to bear activity. There were enough people on the trail that my fears of encountering bears were mostly gone. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and the number of warm human bodies out and about would waft to any living animal like a red flag, because I bet you humans stink. 

As we hiked further, we encountered snow. Slushy, wet, slick snow! Logan marveled at the snow in July, and we trekked through it, trying not to slip or slide. As we hiked about a mile in, we saw our first mountain goat! We saw several more as we kept hiking. There were several on one of the boardwalks, determined to get to somewhere else, and so I moved off the boardwalk into the brush. While mountain goats aren’t massive, they’re still wild animals, and several of them had their kids with them, and I didn’t want to get in the way and cause them stress or make them nervous. It was incredible to see them so close, though, while they’re shedding their thick winter coats and looking shaggy. Their expressive faces and slow pace made it easy to stare. We get to share the world with so many natural things and as a human that makes me feel all the feels. We’re so destructive and polluting and unnatural in some ways and it’s amazing to be around things that are very different and humbling.

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The views at the end of the trail were amazing. Lush green valleys dotted with snow laid before us, while healthy looking, proud trees stood in thick groves. The bare rock of the mountains reached towards the sky and we all looked, silently, absorbing the beauty of everything. The air was cool and fresh and it felt good to inhale and smell the natural smells. Small, delicate flowers laid by the trail, showing off purple and yellow hues. Red slate rocks added blush to the landscape.

As we headed back, my mind buzzed with questions and my heart felt full. I bounded down through the snow quickly and as we got back to the car I felt absolutely exhausted and invigorated simultaneously.

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Edvard Munch @ SFMOMA

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Y’all, over our brief 3 day sojourn to San Francisco we got to see the opening of an Edvard Munch show.

It left me speechless for a few reasons.

First, America rarely gets to see Munch’s work in person. Most are in Oslo in the Munch Museum, and most others are scattered around Europe. I went to New York  in 2013 and saw one version of The Scream there but other than that I have not seen many Munch paintings.

The exhibit was bare except for his canvasses. You could tell many had never been framed as the frames were new and showed the edges of the canvas. The edges were beautiful, just as beautiful as the paint filled middles, because you could see the nails and the ends of the paint and the work felt more human.

Logan said that Munch felt like Renoir on ether, and Adrienne and I both looked at how he painted women- as muses, sexual objects, creatures who reviled Munch, as temptresses and devils. It was agreed that Munch was, in many ways in his later years, a dirty old man.

But a damn talented one. His use of color and his skill with layers and washes were incredible. I felt full as I looked at his depictions of himself, of death, of isolation and lost love. Munch clearly had a powerful imagination that often threatened to swallow him entirely, as he depicted himself in Hell and being watched by eerie masks. We did loops, seeing new things at each turn in front of different canvasses. We sat in front of some and got closer to others. I felt my mind turning to a dirty, poor, unsophisticated Oslo where Munch grew up and wondering about who this man was.

It was a fantastic opportunity for us Americans to see the work of somebody who so clearly had a different mindset, set of motivations, morals, and ideas. It was, though this is difficult to accurately explain, very obvious that these works were by a brooding Norwegian.

Two Years

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Amsterdam, two years ago.

Two years ago Emily and I were eating apples and going to the Rijksmuseum and seeing MisterWives at Paradiso. I wrote directions to the venue on my upper thigh so we wouldn’t have to bring our phones and we stuffed our cash in our bras and shoes. We found out that the Dutch don’t party on Saturday nights like I thought they would. We were told by some family friends that Amsterdamers prefer to go out on Wednesday or Sunday nights, oddly.

We stayed in the apartment of a family friend close to the Albert Cuyp market and got sushi to go on a rainy evening. We spend time in the Hortus Botanicus and the Artis and ate delicious Indonesian and Vietnamese food. We had proper dim sum for the first time in our lives and I had a love affair with some duck crepe thing and a shrimp dumpling.  I lost close to ten pounds just being on my feet all day every day seeing what this old, vibrant city had to offer, and it was so refreshing to be in the motherland in a place where our long, strange last name was perfectly reasonable, even if Dutch still sounds so strange to my Anglo ears.

I cannot wait to go back someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Autonomy

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What does home mean anymore?

Is home a physical location? Is it the people I love? Is it a hybrid of both, mixed with some nostalgia and memories? I haven’t lived in any one place since I was 18 for more than two or three years at a time, so home for me doesn’t necessarily mean a geographical location. I am a Montanan with a fierce love for my enormous, multi-faceted state, but I’m also a creature who has inhabited the mountains and valleys of Switzerland and the green, lush south part of Vancouver Island. Home for me is definitely when I’m with the people who light me up, but my relationship with the land is strong.

Part of this is because I’ve been alone much of the time. Not lonely. Alone. There is a big difference, and I think that learning to be alone, truly alone, and find peace in that is absolutely necessary. We often live in a weird state of semi-connected isolation in our technology tethered society, but I think that as human beings it is vital to be able to find yourself totally solo and not be bothered. I find that some of the most pure memories I have are when I was alone, whether it was on an early morning walk around Paradiso or sitting on a rock listening to the waves, looking into the ocean. I am alone with the earth and with everything around me. Savoring the taste of a good latte with a book in my favorite coffee shops or seeing “The Scream” at The Met and crying quietly in front of it. These are not happy moments in the sense of joy or exhilaration, but they are serene, smooth, and utterly mine. They were created by me, for me, and I allowed myself to be okay with the fact that there was nobody to rest my head on, to look over and smile at, and that feeling of being alone is terrifying but so good.

We live in a world of wage stagnation, nutter politicans, and dreadful news 24/7. We live in a world where technology defines relationships, where not having internet can feel like a death sentence. We are surrounded by media screaming at us that we are not enough, that we could be better. In such a vicious, often callous world, the ability to go away on a walk or sit and have a meal alone in a restaurant or even just look out the window and (not to be morbid but) we will die alone, and in between we will spend much of our lives being alone. This is not a bad thing but a reality we must face and I and many people I deeply love and respect have chosen to not fight it and find peace and serenity in our autonomy and the human experience of existence.

Feelin’ myself

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To combat negativity and bad thoughts that inevitably come as one looks for work, here is some evidence that one beautiful sunny day in Cape Cod I spent some time on the beach with my sister in a dress that fits my personality perfectly (even though my mum referred to it as “A bit Laura Ingalls Wilder”).

 

Lingering/longing

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One week until our ferry departs to head back to my fucked up motherland (hey America! You’re still being run by that sexist, bigoted, disgusting Cheeto in a wig right?).

I should be finishing up my visa application, my thesis, and multiple other things. Instead I had to spend one last weekend morning on the beach. I had to listen to the seagulls and notice how the flower blooms are starting to fade in some places. My fingers felt the textures of the massive driftwood logs and picked up small pieces of sea glass. I feel a lot of things and like I might cry. The future is such a tumultuous, unsure thing and the now, the now is precious and fleeting and like grabbing smoke, but that doesn’t mean I cannot wax poetica about the now.

Good things exist in the future. In eight days I’ll see the smiling face of my partner in crime. In eight days I’ll see my dogs and the lake we live by. I’ll be back in a land where I don’t need a visa and where my old, beloved crappy car, Frank, waits to have me drive him around. My favorite brewery awaits me with a cold glass of my favorite single malt IPA and I get to go to Target (Canada doesn’t have Target and holy kapow I miss Target).

But for now, I’ll soak up the now.

In the gardens unabashed

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Had to put in a quiet Eve mention somewhere. Being in gardens, so lush and fertile and beautiful, surrounded by dozens of species of flowers, trees, bushes, and other flora, I often think that no wonder Eve bit from the apple of knowledge and fucked everything up. Ignorance may be bliss for some, but not for me. I want to know about everything. What tells flowers it’s time to bloom? Why are some petals soft, others rubbery, and others thick and dense? Why do humans enjoy causing some sort of terror to every living thing, whether it be tramping on gentle flora or ruthlessly carving our names on the bamboo in the gardens?

Regardless, yesterday Liang, Deb, and I all spent some much needed time outside in the gardens at school. We smelled all the blooms and quietly meandered and took pictures of each other. It was a lovely afternoon of quiet in the midst of what feels like multiple storms.

The final foray

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The final cabin trip at Lake Cowichan.

I held a Pacific Chorus Frog, saw a deer that shared a meadow and some sun-soaked forest with me, stood on the dock with some good souls and soaked in my final views of the fog-shrouded mountains. Large logs floated on the surface and the rain pattered on the lake surface, an almost mesmerizing thing to witness. A fire was built and we huddled around it. I went to bed earlier than most, sharing a wood and canvas tent with Isobel. We heard the loud sound of rain hitting the tin roof, and with flaps made from tarp the night air seeped in making us both glad we were cozy in our sleeping bags.

Having recently gotten back really positive if not downright amazing feedback from my thesis supervisor I felt giddy at the thought of almost being done with this degree. The cabin trip sealed this feeling of accomplishment- I deserved to be here, I deserved to feel my feet on the damp, fern-covered ground in the deep woods here. I deserved to take the time to notice how the light could change so quickly in such a light-starved place. Woodpeckers tenaciously poked away at tree trunks and I stood and watched them for several minutes at a time, their red feathered heads flashing.

Every forest has hiding places, evidence of life, and details worth looking at. Tree hollows, fallen leaves, the sound of fussy squirrels dashing among branches, and the chirrup of birds high above your head happen in most forests. As you walk you might notice a neat pile of deer sign, or an owl pellet, or perhaps even find the pale bones of something that has since been picked clean. Human beings, with our neat division of life and death, where the dead are buried or burned or quickly taken away, do not leave evidence of said death everywhere. In the woods, death and decay exist alongside birth and growth.

That being said, it is really nice to type those words from my warm, sunny apartment. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time outside when I can, but I’m so close to being done with this thesis! Time to go write some more (maybe).

 

Amarillo everywhere

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Millions of little blooms hang down the edges of the sea cliffs all over this city right now and the colors are so blatantly optimistic and invigorating that after long, soul-tired walks I cannot help but feel a little better about things. It is interesting though that all of these blooms are rife with thorns. Nothing comes for free or without consequences.