Preparing to leave, part two (visual).

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My time here summed up in visual form.

Photography is a tool, and even the most casual of photographers use this tool in decisive ways. I have used mine to capture the fleeting moments that will last, longer than my anxious thoughts or potentially sad feelings about this place, because if you put me in a corner and asked me, truly, if I was happy here, I would have to tell you that there were moments that were fucking blissful.

Seeing the sunset on our street. The first night we spent in our home. Meeting Logan’s friends from Brazil, bridges between our two worlds that I hadn’t known before. Late nights at the VFW watching a good live show with Nick, Logan, and Ev, feeling like the universe sent good people to be around. Chelsea’s all-too-brief visits that were filled with photos and chats that my soul needed. Quiet mornings at Bernice’s and Butterfly Herbs, nestled at tables and booths with a library book and a note pad. Kettlehouse afternoons, with delicious beer and salty peanuts. Drives out to the Lolo National Forest for fishing, exploring, and renewal. Walking to work in the snow, having the early morning feel like it was all for me as I made the first human footprints on my walk . Watching spring be tenacious and persistent and then take over Missoula with a ferocity I reveled in, photographing blooms and green, chlorophyll-devouring things as eagerly as they emerged from their deep winter slumber.

 

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Preparing to leave, part one (text).

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I will be moving out of Missoula in a matter of months, leaving this cozy mountain town with streets I’ve walked hundreds of times, for work, for brews, for the warmth of people I care about. I feel torn between elation at escaping so soon and mourning because I feel like I have half-assed living here. Leaving places half-lived, things partially seen, people not fully explored, makes me feel like a sloppy person. I am not. I am usually meticulous as Hell.

I moved here in May 2017 because Logan got a good job and that’s what you do when one of you gets something promising. We were excited to spend a year together, finally. Montana in the summer is like nowhere else, and we couldn’t wait to find a home, move in, buy some tubes, float the river, and just exist in the ways you get to when you are around your person for more than a few months at a time.

I quickly realized that while I vaguely knew people here, it was hard to pin them down and also terrifying to do so. Mostly non-profit acquaintances, people who had done lobbying at the Legislature, or people I knew from college. I felt ashamed to reach out and make friends because I was unemployed, broke, and still finishing my thesis. I was a messy trifecta of half-done, in-progress things that really mattered to me. I was not sure what was going to happen, if we were always going to be this broke, if I was always going to get interviews and still never land a job, if my thesis edits would ever really, truly be done.

Despite the struggles, Missoula felt so full of promise, and people here seemed happy, settled, or had at least found something that made them feel content enough to stay, and I eagerly looked for those feelings or motivations. I looked in bars, on the shores of rivers, in bakeries with black coffee, in art galleries, at live music shows, on long walks as dusk tinged everything in blues and purples. I caught glimpses of them as I listlessly meandered around town, jobless and ashamed, lonely but too proud to reach out to people I kind-of-knew, wanting needing somebody to tell me, as they looked me in the eye, You are going to be just fine. Missoula is a shit-show for the unemployed. Most of us are working two jobs. The wages are notoriously terrible. You are going through something we all have.

The problem is that if you don’t reach out to those kind-of-knew people, you don’t ever give the opportunity for anything to arise. In my introverted-ness, compounded by personal challenges, I hid. Everybody I sort-of-knew here seemed content enough that it felt horrible to ask them to leave that space and come, however temporarily, to my little plot of guilt and fear.

After that, once fall and winter came on, I felt okay, and my awkwardness and lack of friends were quieted because in the span of three months I had defended a thesis I was proud of, said goodbye to British Columbia and grieved a bit, and landed a job that seemed like it would fill in a lot of holes that had been present mentally. That proved to be wrong, but the point is that I felt okay with having this other gaping hole of relationships persist, because you can’t have it all, and I had more than I had in a long, long time. A wonderful partner, a job, a house, a Master’s degree. Why get greedy?

I still felt like I needed to seek that feeling, though. That seeking, to this day, has given me lots of beginnings, almost no middles, and one ending that will occur soon.

I have pondered and turned these ideas of place, of settling, of bonds that make you want to stay, until they went from a rock with bits of dirt and detritus clinging, to a smooth stone that I can put in my pocket, rubbed down and worried to no end. There was never enough time here. By the time spring rolled around, I was mentally preparing for Logan to depart as his visa was expiring soon. A big change that would have us both not having much figured out, just a fierce hope, sheer determination and one Canadian work visa between the two of us, because neither of our countries could house us both. I mourned after he left- it was a shock to have our house emptied of him, our happy yellow house with apple trees, where we valiantly battled wasp nests, drank wine on the porch, read books in bed, were broke and happy and curious together. So, once again, I folded inward, adjusting to this awful newness.

Anyway, I guess this is an admission in some ways. I am bad at putting down roots. I have moved every two years since I was eighteen, just in time to find the people I imagine could be worthwhile and leaving just before the layers of friendship set like so many layers of stain on bare wood, protecting and illuminating the right qualities. I feel so torn departing, relief flowing through me because this challenging period of my life will be ending, but also feeling like a jerk because I feel like I didn’t make enough happen. Missoula is a beautiful place, with soul and meaning. I will reflect on more of that in further posts, but I feel strongly that what I discuss here contains some of my biggest regrets, so I need to abandon them here.

6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books, mornings, and priorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017, you can rot in hell, but I’ll remember you fondly.

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Wow, 2017, what a simultaneous adrenaline rush of a year. I felt like I was always battling a dumpster fire outside my house but also consistently smiling while doing it.

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Biggest accomplishments: Writing a really, really solid thesis I was super proud of, defending it, and getting my Master of the Arts degree from University of Victoria. I got to write about an incredible, strong, funny, complex, and real woman named Evelyn Cameron, who settled in Terry, Montana in 1891 and died there in 1928.

Also, having a military professor at a school in British Columbia tell me he was grossed out by my conference presentation in Qualicum regarding blood transfusion techniques in World War I.

Getting to move in with Logan in our little yellow house. We dated long distance while I was in graduate school and have only ever gotten to spend a few months at a time with each other. Moving in with somebody, which I’ve never done, was terrifying and a fucking blast. We managed to get our shit together and put everything we owned (very little) and donated furniture (a lot) into a U-Haul and a truck and unpack it all, without injuries. However, at the end of it, Logan did say “you’re about 70% weaker than I thought”. Oops!

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Biggest setback: Spending four months unemployed in Missoula, feeling like a garbage person and having really really bad mental health days. Being unemployed as somebody with an advanced degree, a good work ethic, and an able body was humiliating and uncomfortable. Sorry to anybody I vented to a bit too much during that time- I felt paralyzed with frustration, anger, and fear.

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Places I went to: We went to Glacier National Park in July, and did some hiking and photographing up at Logan Pass! I made Logan take a picture in front of the Logan Pass sign, which he did but only begrudgingly.

Logan surprised me with tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in San Francisco, so we went and stayed with my friend Adrienne. We got to soak in an Edvard Munch show at the SFMOMA, which was absolutely a joy, eat some really good Malaysian food, pho, and see the famous/infamous San Francisco Bay fog creep up all around us. At the Nick Cave concert I openly wept a few times.  It was amazing.

In March I surprised Logan as he flew back to the States from Brazil and we got to see Patti Smith with our friend Mary, who has been busy kicking ass in law school. We also go to see the Guillermo del Toro show at the Minneapolis Museum of Art! It was so wicked to see the props and the art that influenced his films, which I love so much.

In May I went to Cape Cod with my family to see my dad’s side of our family, and I got to spend time by the Atlantic, bought a really lovely dress, ate a lot of amazing food in Provincetown with my aunts, and saw Exa, my amazing friend from Boston. 35305006476_a766fbd820_c

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Goals I set in 2017:

To photograph myself more, and not hide behind the lens as much. I did this quietly, in the morning, on my long walks before most people were out. I still get too nervous to ask people to take my picture!

To get my MA done this year on time! Somehow, with a really intense writing schedule from my thesis supervisor (Thanks Dr. Cleves!) it happened. It not only happened, but I got to write something I would call compelling, and I seriously enjoyed putting my thesis together and molding it from a pile of documents and a lot of muddled thoughts.

To roll with the punches more. I am a bit controlling and introverted at times, as I have spent much of my adult life living in places without a lot of friends or people to check in with, and as such I have become independent to the point that to this day it’s difficult for me to let others drive me around or trust that when Logan goes to the store he’ll get everything we need.

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For 2018 I want to: 

Learn Portuguese really, really well so that when I go to Brazil this year I can speak and understand what people are saying, or at least some of it.

Save more money so that the things I need (a visa to Brazil, plane tickets, student loan money) are taken care of and there’s a little left over.

To photograph more medium format film- I haven’t shot more than ten rolls of 120 film in my life, but I always love it, and I love scanning it in. The perfect square is also a very satisfying thing to look at, and the negatives are SO BIG and BEAUTIFUL!

To watch more film noir and crochet more. In 2015, while I worked a really awful job with the worst boss(es) you could possibly imagine, the only thing that saved my sanity was coming home, watching an old movie, and making something with my hands.

Make photographs I am proud of and get more creative with my photographs. Maybe even make a little money off of them this year!

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L’Autunno e qui!!!

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Hello, fellow internet dwellers! I’ve been off the grid a bit (I’m always more active on Instagram honestly) but I hope autumn or spring has been treating you all well wherever on the globe you reside!

What I’ve been doing:

Spending lots of time drinking coffee, editing cover letters, and people watching at Butterfly Herbs.

Hosting humans in our home, most notably having two Australians in our home!

Drinking some good local beer (here’s looking at you, Fresh Bongwater Hemp Ale!)

Starting multiple books and re-reading others, like Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, which always makes me cry. Her way with words is unspeakably poignant and she digs under layers of emotions that you didn’t know you were feeling at the moment. The way that she writes makes you grieve as she does, and it was a bestseller for a good reason.

Writing almost every day in my diary. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time and I’ve been fairly good at it recently.

Sleeping at least eight hours a night (or at least trying).

Re-watching Mad Men and having all the thoughts. What a damn fine multi-layered, complex, revealing, and sad work of art.

Scanning in film I’ve taken over the last few weeks.

Baking corn bread muffins, making puttanesca, and drinking tea.

Going home, seeing my mother, going to the dentist, doing important life things.

 

 

 

Escaping Hell to go fishing.

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We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

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While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

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I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

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!

 

 

 

 

Missoula moments

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Last night Logan and I floated the Clark Fork River on some industrial rubber tire tubes. We had a river bag with two beers and our car keys tied to his shoelaces. The water was warm, and the smoke-clouded sun shone deep gold and warm orange on the water’s surface. We floated under a bridge with a loud train rumbling over and it felt surreal to look at thousands of pounds of goods moving over our heads. Fish jumped ahead of us and we heard the river get loud and quiet and loud again, and we bobbed in and out of waves and currents.

Then, we heard it. The the most pathetic sounding, wobbly, unimpressive sound a bird has ever emitted: the cry of a bald eagle! Yes, ladies and gentleman, our regal national symbol, with it’s glorious white head, sharp beak, and piercing eyes that grace the cheesy tee shirts that live in at least half of Montana’s older white male population’s closets. The bald eagle, in fact, shrieks in a most undramatic, uninspiring way. We saw two immature bald eagles and what we thought may be their mum perched in the tall trees alongside the river.

As we floated on, eagles close by and the sun going down, I looked all around us, I thought, This is bliss. This is what it’s about. Where else on earth do I get to do this?

36248384036_345caacd08_c35895831730_4abb3bea5b_c36248389366_cbf48db76b_c This last week has been full of reminders to be kind to myself. The job search has been brutal so far, with resumes given in hand and online, with only silence or rejection so far. Summer has been hot, brutally so, making me loathe everything. Sleep is hard to come by often. And yet, things are good. Chelsea visited us for a few days, making delicious palomas in the kitchen and telling stories of her around the world journey she’d been on with her Kate the last six months. We tried a new brewery, made pizzas, went to Bernice’s Bakery and ate amazing baked goods and had excellent coffee. We went to Kettlehouse and I had the most incredible slow pour nitro amber ale (which yes, is a dramatic title, and the beer was dramatic and delicious).

Life moves so fast in the summer. Last summer was a blur like this one, too, with hectic trips to Yellowstone, barbecues outside, delicious meals and cold beer, but also looking at the date and shaking my head, wondering if it was really already August. Last year, though, there was the inevitable departure back to British Columbia, the goodbyes and the sadness, and this August there is none of that looming. It feels so good to not worry about a date in which I’ll cross the border to the North and leave behind loved ones.

So life continues here in the northwestern part of Montana, where fires rage in the mountains and eagles screech from the river shores, and I continue to apply for jobs and keep my chin up the best I can. A dopo, readers!

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“How did you get my espresso machine?” (The Montana Folk Festival)

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If you haven’t watched “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I highly recommend you make it a priority. Even though it got not-so-great ratings at the time, I find the film to be poignant, ridiculous, hilarious, and visually compelling in so many ways.

There is a building in Butte called the Hennessy Building. It is large, regal, grand, and recently restored. As we walked to it I told Logan we must go inside and steal an espresso machine, a nod to the film mentioned above. The annual Montana Folk Festival was in full swing around us, and we saw the streets full of warm bodies on a ridiculously hot day.

Usually Butte is a fairly cool place temperature (and other) wise. However, the town was so toasty that the asphalt on the streets was literally melting, so wheelbarrows full of sand were being carted around dutifully to keep people’s feet from sticking to the pavement. Nonetheless, thousands of people like ourselves reveled in the live music, delicious food stands, and people watching that Butte always affords. I saw old bikers, young hipsters, way too many infants without sound protection, and a general sampling of humanity.

The Montana Folk Festival this year brought us a marvelous Afro-Venezuelan group, Betsayda Machado y la Parranda del Clavo, to one of the stages. Venezuela is, pardon my language, a shit place to be right now, with triple-digit inflation, lack of basic medicines, and general upheaval, and as we listened to the amazing sounds of the group, I wondered what it was like back home, and how these musicians were doing, if they would return home to the awfulness, and what it must be like to be in an old mining town in Montana introducing us to their sounds. As we watched Logan told me the music reminded him of the music in Bahia, a northern state in Brazil, and he said that it felt “like home” with the heat, the sounds, and the colors.

Earlier that week as we listened to Montana Public Radio we got to hear the most amazing cover of “House of the Rising Sun” croon us as we made dinner. The musician in question who made this masterpiece was Doreen Ketchens, hailing from New Orleans, and we got to see her at the Folk Festival as well! She played the clarinet, her daughter played drums, and the music that rang around the old part of Butte from her stage gave me goosebumps, I swear! Something about the clarinet can make sounds that are eerie and tingling, and I loved hearing her play songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and other classics I had only heard from recordings decades old.

The heat ultimately defeated us, though. We took shelter in a few breweries and bars to escape the omnipresent film of sweat that covered us all. Butte’s bar scene is eclectic, and at one establishment the bartender sassed me aggressively for not ordering a double gin and tonic. “What is the point of being at the Folk Festival if you’re not getting folked up?!” he hissed at me, and I begged him to just give me a single, as I was not looking to be a plastered creature at 5pm. He finally gave in but I’m sure he thought I was pathetic- and definitely not from Butte, where drinking is a hyper-common hobby. The open-container law also allows residents to get drinks “to go” to enjoy as they go about their merry ways.

Overall, this year was a blast. Despite the heat and the sun and the swaths of people (and overpriced beer tickets- $5 for a tall boy of PBR is just a bit too much) I cannot say I regretted it one bit. We passed out later that evening thoroughly exhausted, and I was still humming Ms. Ketchen’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” at the end of it all.

The Void (Musings on looking for jobs)

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The other day I went to get a bite with a friend. Then she asked me what I really wanted to be doing with my life as we were eating and I paused. What did I really want? Well damn girl, slow down. Don’t be getting me optimistic about things! I said, I really want to be writing and photographing and making money from it. I want to be telling stories and bringing humanity into a world that sometimes seems in dire need of it. 

As I apply for jobs I feel so unsure of how to communicate who I am/why I am worthwhile on a single sheet of paper. I am highly capable, competitive, and enthusiastic. I am, underneath it all, an optimist. I feel so full of potential and ambition and energy it seems hard to channel it effectively sometiems. But, I’m also feeling very wary of The Void. The Void is where you send all your job applications these days. The Void is that online application portal that your potential (fingers crossed!!!) future employer uses, and it is to The Void that you upload a resume (.docx or .pdf preferred), your cover letter, and whatever else you think The Void needs to potentially see you as a viable candidate to be paid for what labor they want you to do.

The Void is sterile, inhumane, and prone to creating senses of doubt, negativity, and cynicism. The Void may never get back to you, it may never even send you an email that it got your application. The Void consumes hours of your time and effort and may not yield you anything. If I were in agriculture and The Void was an acre of land I wouldn’t be planting anything there, but these are desperate, Void-necessary times.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I know somebody with blood in their veins and a brain in their skull pulls the information I’ve send to The Void and that a human being or two actually peruses some if not most of the applications. Regardless, it is disheartening to submit so much and often never hear a peep back. No feedback, no reasoning about why I wasn’t the right fit, just the consuming, stressful, omnipresent SILENCE that The Void echoes. It doesn’t make my applications better. It doesn’t strengthen my resolve. It doesn’t make me a better resume writer.  I know that employers are likely inundated with applications, that lots of places don’t have the staff to respond to applicants like that, but the cold face of the Internet can be a bit trying sometimes. So, that means I have to work harder to keep my chin up and know that it will, eventually, work out. We all have to, don’t we?

P.S. Send me good thoughts as I look for work. Please. Now back to editing that one cover letter…

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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.

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.